Street Kings DVD: Review By Brian Gallagher

It’s a balls-out action film, a dark and subtle noir film all under the watchful eye of one of my favorite filmmakers, David Ayer, and one hell of a powerful flick, in more ways than one.
  • OVERALL
    4.5
    SUPERB
  • Feature
  • Picture
  • Sound
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
THE GOOD
Another smashing gem from David Ayer with solid performances from Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie and Chris Evans.
THE BAD
Not much, really. Some of the features are pretty repetitive and some of the smaller performances were annoying.
THE FEATURE
I've been a fan of David Ayer's work since his breakout screenplay Training Day, which won Denzel Washington an Oscar and put Ayer on the map. Since then I've loved all of his films, all of which show different sides of L.A. and law enforcement, from his Rodney King-era flick Dark Blue, the TV adaptation of S.W.A.T. and his directorial debut with the magnificent Harsh Times, which he wrote as well. Ayer's latest, Street Kings, is the first film he's been involved with that he didn't write, but it brings us back to that familiar Ayer territory of the streets of L.A. in a marvelous way.

While Ayer didn't write this film, this trio of writers, plus Ayer's direction and expertise on these darker areas of Los Angeles make for one unique foursome of filmmakers. The screenplay was written by noir guru James Ellroy, action/drama guru Kurt Wimmer (if you guys haven't seen Equilibrium yet, you're REALLY missing out) and first-time scribe Jamie Moss. What's so great about this film is you can see all of these areas of expertise blended into this wonderful narrative about a dirty cop (Keanu Reeves) who tries to do the right thing, for once. You can see the unique Ellroy noir flair, with layers that get peeled away as the story progresses, the slick dialogue and unique action pieces from Wimmer repertoire and the hard-nosed direction and take-no-prisoners attitude of Ayer behind the camera. When I saw this in the theater, I was actually surprised that Ayer hadn't written this, because there are so many classic Ayer sorts of moments and lines of dialogue, but I'm sure his influence was abound.

The film follows Detective Tom Ludlow (Reeves), a shady cop, who, despite leading a smash-mouth Vice Special unit, likes to take it solo, as we see in the film's opening moments when he takes out some Korean gangsters who have kidnapped two young girls. While the heroic rescue makes headlines, the Vice Special unit Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker) has to put Ludlow on ice, due to his sketchy tactics, until this blows over... but that's not the only reason. The real reason is to keep him away from Washington (Terry Crews), Ludlow's ex-partner who's now ratting out Ludlow to Internal Affairs and their persistent Captain Biggs (Hugh Laurie). When Washington gets killed in a "robbery gone bad" and Ludlow is there as well - to give him a beating for snitching - Ludlow gets dragged deeper and deeper into a world of trouble that he can't even begin to comprehend. With the help of a young detective named Diskant (Chris Evans), he starts to unravel corruption, layer by layer.

OK, if you couldn't have guessed by now, this is a dude movie. If there wasn't so much swearing and crazy crap going on, this would've likely been on that Movies for Guys Who Like Movies thing on whatever channel that is. This film is just balls-to-the-wall with intensity, bad language and foul living, on both sides of the badge and it's just damn fun to watch. This film is probably the closest feature film version to The Shield that's out there and there are even a few references as well, since they call their station "The Barn" like The Shield does. Maybe that's just an L.A. cop thing though. Who knows. I haven't been arrested out here (knocks on wood). Testosterone aside, this is one hell of a smart film as well, with a complex narrative that reveals Ellroy's hand in the film and keeps you guessing until the very end.

At the heart of this thing also is Keanu Reeves, who's quite convincing in his subtle sort of way, as the crooked cop Tom Ludlow. He really digs into this role and, while Keanu is no method actor, and never will be, his portrayal of Tom Ludlow is about as honest a performance you can expect from the character. He has an amazing supporting cast behind him too with the enigmatic Forest Whitaker, who simply shines once again as the outspoken Jack Wander, Chris Evans as the young detective Diskant, who joins forces with Ludlow and even Hugh Laurie, whose creepy oeuvre as House just bothers me, but actually works quite well as the internal affairs guy you love to hate, Biggs. I also liked Jay Mohr as the wise-cracking Clady (although he looks just weird with a mustache here), but Amaury Nolasco and John Corbett (an odd choice, if I do say so), weren't that effective as Vice Special unit members Santos and Demille. There is also a powerful, but all-too-brief performance from rapper-turned-actor Common towards the end of the film and, while I know it wouldn't have worked for the film, I really would've loved to see more of his ruthless character because he played him so damn well.

While this is only David Ayer's second film as a director, he truly has unique storytelling abilities and guides us through this familiar world of his with deft and ease. He has a very direct style and isn't afraid to go all-out in any aspect of filmmaking. It's so rare to see filmmakers embrace a hard-R type of film these days, and Ayer just keeps pumping them out and I truly respect that. He's clearly not a filmmaker who panders to anything but the story he wants to tell, and he isn't afraid to drop a guy in some barbed wire or sink a handcuff through a cheek to tell his unique type of story. In a movie world where PG-13 rules supreme, a filmmaker like David Ayer is a rare commodity, and one I'm truly glad Hollywood has.

Street Kings is really a morality tale that shows that even the bad cops can still do good. It's part street-savvy action and part methodical crimefighting which adds up to a film only David Ayer and this unique trio of writers could possibly bring us.
THE EXTRAS
We get a healthy does of special features here that gets kicked off with 15 Deleted Scenes, which are actually fairly interesting. They span a good 11 minutes and some change and while some are worthy of deletion, like the stuff with Ludlow's new girlfriend and a few others, there are some interesting tidbits throughout the rest of these, which sets up the end a little differently.

Alternate Takes is next and we get 10 of these bad boys and there really isn't a whole lot that is "alternate" about them. They're really just extended scenes, really, and they aren't even extended that much. There is a really cool part where Tom goes to Jack's house at 3 AM, where we get a little more insight into their awkward relationship, and one bombshell of a revelation during the last one here that I really REALLY wish they would've kept in the movie. It's so big and explains so much that I'm actually pretty damn shocked they didn't leave it in, especially since it's not that time-consuming. The rest, though, are pretty much worth skipping.

Street Rules: Rulling with David Ayer and Jaime FitzSimmons is next and it's pretty interesting. This is a featurette that has director David Ayer driving through the Ramart Division of L.A. with the film's L.A.P.D. technical advisor, Jaime FitzSimmons. It's pretty funny when we see two cops riding through Rampart, which used to be the most violent parts of L.A., on Seguay's, which was quite odd and got a laugh out of the guys. We also get some interesting insight into the neighborhood and how they used that neighborhood in the film and in FitzSimmons working with Keanu to get into that mindset for his character. This is a really unique featurette, almost like a Taxicab Confessional thing with these two guys talking about their pasts, with Ayer growing up in the area or FitzSimmons patrolling the area and how they relate to the film. This is an awesome 17-minute featurette that, if you loved the movie, you really have to check out.

L.A. Bete. Noir: Writing Street Kings is next and we get some stuff about the birth of the script, with Ellroy's original script, which was a period piece set in the L.A. just after Rodney King, and how they modernized it to this film we see today. We also get some insight into which areas of the film each writer contributed to the film. It's only a four-minute featurette, but it's worth a watch.

Street Cred is up next and it's a little featurette with Common, who plays Coates, Cle Sloan, who plays Fremont and Cedric the Entertainer with some stuff from Ayer as well. There are some interesting things from Sloan, who is also called "Bones," who used to be a real L.A. gangster before turning to acting and there are some pretty cool things in this featurette, even though it's not even four minutes long.

Vignettes are next and there are four of them altogether. They are just little video segments focused on certain parts of the film. The firs tone, Crash Course, talks about the crazy driving scene with John Corbett being hooked in the cheek by handcuffs. Heirs to the Throne and this is kind of like the Street Cred featurette, talking about Common, Bones and Cedric the Entertainer. Inside Vice Special Unit gives a glimpse into the cops, with Forest Whiaker, Keanu Reeves, Jay Mohr and others in the unit talking about the unit at their characters. Training Days is the last one here and it deals with Ayer and FitzSimmons from the earlier featurette talking about the cop training of the actors here. They're all just between a minute or two minutes long and, while we get some stuff the same here, there are some nice additions here.

Behind the Scenes is the last thing we get here, and it's broken down into four segments: In Training, Car Rig, Squibs and On Set. These are all just little montages of those aspects of the movie. The first one, In Training, is pretty lame, but the others show us some cool stuff about these minor aspects of the flick. These are all around a minute long and I'd skip the first one, but check out the rest.
THE VIDEO
The film is presented in the widescreen format in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
THE AUDIO
The sound is handled through the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound format.
THE PACKAGE
I like what they did with this here. The front cover is a nice modular design with different-sized images of the main players of the film, with a box for the title and a critic quote as well. The back is done modularly as well, with another critic quote, several boxed images of the film, a special feature listing, billing block and tech specs. It's a very nice layout.
THE FINAL WORD
Street Kings is not a date movie. It's not a movie that should be watched with any women within earshot, probably. It's a balls-out action film, a dark and subtle noir film all under the watchful eye of one of my favorite filmmakers, David Ayer, and one hell of a powerful flick, in more ways than one.

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Comments (3)

  1. Shelley

    Good review. I have to tell you though, I am female and I think this film is underrated and deserved more attention than what it received. I guess I am not your typical female when it comes to movies though because just about every time I go and buy movies they ask if they are a gift for my husband. I liked this one so much I went out and purchased it after watching it via rental.

    6 years agoby @shelleyFlag

  2. Brian Gallagher

    Thanks TDK. HUGE Ayer fan here, if you couldn't tell:) He was a cool interview as well.

    6 years agoby @gallagherFlag

  3. The Dark Knight

    I liked this one good review

    6 years agoby @thedarkknight23Flag