Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir-scr Deniz Gamze Erguven
prd Charles Gillibert, Vincent Maraval
with Halle Berry, Daniel Craig, Lamar Johnson, Kaalan 'KR' Walker, Rachel Hilson, Issac Ryan Brown, Callan Farris, Serenity Reign Brown, Kirk Baltz, Kevin Carroll, Peter Mackenzie, David Paquesi
release US 27.Apr.19,
UK 14.Aug.19
17/US 1h26

johnson hilson walker

Weaving in real news footage, Turkish-French writer-director Deniz Gamze Erguven takes a lively, personal approach to events surrounding the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The resulting arthouse film has a strong sense of atmosphere, and a number of vivid characters, although a clear narrative never emerges. Instead, this is a tapestry of emotions, mixing goofy comedy with unexpected romance and hideous tragedy.
It's been a racially charged spring, and now four cops are on trial for the very public violent beating of Rodney King. In South Central, Millie (Berry) lovingly runs a foster home, while observant teen Jesse (Johnson) tries to help her care for seven younger ones. He also keeps an eye on classmate Nicole (Hilson), whose outspoken attitudes get her in trouble. She's also pursuing their hothead friend William (Walker). Meanwhile, angry neighbour Obie (Craig) seems to hate everyone. Then the riots erupt, sparking violence and bigotry that quickly spin out of control.
Everything is underscored by gruesomely detailed news reports, as everyday petty crime and simmering racial tensions sit alongside the usual happy events like grabbing a taco from a truck or wrestling with siblings while watching mindless television. So the escalating chaos feels startlingly random and invasive. Situations are so fraught with nasty possibilities that it's often hard to watch. As the film takes on a frantic tone, spinning wildly in unexpected directions, it captures the feeling of being in the middle of something inexplicable.

Performances from the teens are particularly strong, with Johnson, Hilson and Walker adeptly carrying the emotional weight of the film. Berry is perhaps too much of a mamma bear, otherwise undefined as a character on her own. Craig has even more of a struggle, veering wildly from cantankerous grouch to happy-dancing babysitter. And the connection between Berry and Craig feels more than a little spurious. But each person on-screen, young or old, brings a sense of gritty honesty to his or her role.

The title connects two iconic Kings: Martin Luther and Rodney. But Erguven isn't making simplistic links between them. She also isn't trying to find an easy explanation for the riots themselves. Instead, she takes an unnervingly ambitious approach to a massively meaningful event, using a limited perspective that's exhilarating and also frustrating, because it feels so messy and abrupt. Indeed, the film's uneven approach is difficult to engage with, but Erguven has made an audacious movie that vividly places the audience at ground zero in history.

cert 15 themes, language violence, sexuality 7.Aug.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall