Things that would surprise me: David Ayer taking any part in a comedy. Ayer has done extensive research into the LAPD, which resulted in "Training Day" and "Dark Blue". Ayer's films either head into dark territory or are literally in dark territory (the submarine thriller "U-571"), and "Street Kings" is no different. This time, Ayer directs from a script written by Kurt Wimmer (writer/director of "Equilibrium" and the comically bad "Ultraviolet"), writer Jamie Moss and writer James Ellroy.
The film stars Keanu Reeves as Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves), a detective who has begun drinking after the loss of his wife. Depressed and angry, he has turned into a renegade cop, choosing to ask questions later. After storming into a house that's held by a bunch of Korean criminals and adjusting the crime scene after he's torn the place apart, his methods are called into question by former partner, Terrence Washington (Terry Crews).
When Washington is taken out of the picture in a robbery, Ludlow is the one who catches the blame. Captain Biggs (Hugh Laurie) of Internal Affairs, who had already begun sniffing around Ludlow, starts to bring the pressure down - not only on him, but on his entire team. Tom's boss (Forest Whitaker) tries to cool the situation off, but Tom joins with another detective (Chris Evans) to try and solve the case.
It's not long before Ludlow starts to realize that all paths point back towards the police, as the search leads up the ladder towards high-ranking members of the force. Ayer's hard-boiled crime drama winds its way through dark alleys across Los Angeles, offering up some decent twists and turns along the way although the movie ultimately remains rather predictable. Additionally, considering the involvement of Ellroy, it's rather disappointing that the dialogue can sometimes seem rather cliche or clunky.
Still, despite never really going anywhere too terribly unexpected, the movie manages to keep the interest for a couple of hours thanks to what is the most intense performance from Reeves since...well, I can't remember the last time Reeves showed this kind of intensity. He faces off against Whitaker and an excellent Laurie quite well, and both Laurie and Whitaker offer powerful - Laurie in a subtle way, Whitaker in full boil - performances.
The other highlight of Ayer's film is the gritty visual style, which - at least in the dark sequences - almost seems to be lit by the rusted, flickering street lights that dot the landscape. The movie does have action sequences, but the majority of the tension is achieved via the performances and Ayer's crisp, tight pacing.
This isn't great cinema, but its certainly watchable cinema, as while the material isn't above the ordinary, Ayer manages to get fine performances from his cast and soaks the picture in gritty atmosphere.
VIDEO:The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by 20th Century Fox. The screening copy of the film that was provided offered average image quality, with acceptable sharpness/detail and some pixelation and shimmering. However, this is still not the final copy and I'll hope that the retail copy offers improved image quality.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack flares up with gunfire and other sound effects during the film's handful of action sequences. However, the rear speakers don't settle down during the remainder of the film, as the surrounds kick in reinforcement of the score and offer some mild ambience. Audio quality is excellent, with clear dialogue and bassy, full-sounding effects.
EXTRAS: Director David Ayer offers an audio commentary for the film, as well as for 15 deleted scenes (although there are no comments for 10 alternate takes.)
"Street Rules" is a particularly interesting 18-minute piece, which sees Ayer and former LAPD officer (and the film's technical supervisor) Jaime Fitzsimons driving through a neighborhood that Ayer used to hang out in and Fitzsimons used to patrol. While some of the ride is spent talking about changes in the neighborhood and Los Angeles, the two also go talk in-depth about the film and their careers. "Writing Street Kings" sees Ayer and other members of the production talking about how they became involved, as well as the changes that occured within James Ellroy's script.
We also get the "Street Cred" featurette, as well as short vignettes ("Crash Course", "Heirs to the Throne", "Inside Vice Special Unit" and "Training Days") as well as a 4-part behind-the-scenes featurette that runs only a matter of a few minutes in all. Last, but not least, we get the trailer for the film.
Final Thoughts: This isn't great cinema, but the film remains watchable, as while the material isn't above the ordinary, Ayer manages to get fine performances from his cast and soaks the picture in gritty atmosphere. Rent it.
The Film C+