Hi, everyone. “Moriarty” here with some Rumblings From The Lab…
Vern rarely writes to us about genuinely great movies, so when he sets aside his insane Steven Seagal fetish to write a review like this, I have to take it seriously:
Vern here and for once I’ve got the genuine article for you. Not just a better than average straight to video-er or something. This is an actual great theatrical film that you haven’t much covered yet and that I know you boys are gonna love. Guaranteed. I saw it here at SIFF and I know it’s played some other film festivals and it’s coming soon to a theater near some place or other. And if nobody goes to see it, well then, fuck those guys. They obviously don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.
STANDER is the true story of Andres Stander, a police captain turned legendary bank robber in ’70s South Africa. At the height of the revolution he noticed that with all the police on riot duty to stop uprisings and protests, there weren’t enough police to really guard the banks. So he started robbing them, then pretending to investigate his own crimes, until he was caught and then busted out of prison and started his own very successful gang. Seems like a pretty good guy.
So it’s got all the thrills of your favorite bank robber movies but with the unique setting and themes of apartheid era South Africa. Stander is played by Thomas Jane (yes, the punishing guy from the Marvel comics) and like I said he’s a police captain, so obviously he’s a white dude. I don’t know what the real story is, but as it’s portrayed in the movie, the events are set off by his disgust with apartheid and with his own participation in it. The beginning of the movie really creeps you out by putting you in the perspective of a riot cop at an anti-apartheid protest. You watch the protesters (the good guys) marching and singing about Mandela from a helicopter, behind a gun. Things get rowdy, and Stander freaks out and shoots an unarmed man. Afterwards he can’t understand why no one really cares. He feels guilty but he also feels like he should feel more guilty than he does. And this is part of what pushes him to, on a whim one day, rob a bank during his lunch break.
And the way the movie tells it, it’s a lot of fun. Especially after he busts out of prison and he gets very bold. He and his two partners dress up in all kinds of disguises, almost like that “sabotage” video they used to have on the MTV. Thomas Jane does a great job. He’s real charismatic and he looks like a tough guy and he wears alot of funny wigs. And you feel like in his own half assed way he’s fighting against the system, fucking with the pigs and wasting their time so they have less time to oppress innocent black people. When he’s first caught, he asks the court why he’s being charged with bank robbery when he’s killed an unarmed man. From prison, he tells his dad in a letter that he likes the criminals he meets in jail better than the cops he knew. He thinks they’re better people.
It’s a tough guy movie in the sense that Stander is a badass anti-hero that you wouldn’t want to fuck with, but it’s not a very violent or brutal movie. In the grand tradition of armed robbers with Robin Hood aspirations, they mostly avoid shooting people. For a while. So we’re not talking CHOPPER or something. But there is action – some good chases, and lots of tension as he makes some close escapes.
Man, I don’t know about you but I’m a sucker for these charsimatic bank robber stories. In Seattle there was a guy several years back known as “Hollywood” because he wore lots of disguises and most of the tellers he robbed thought he was handsome. He had a great run and never fired a shot until they cornered him in somebody’s motor home and he turned the gun on himself. By all accounts he was a real nice dude. Turned out he’d been putting the money into his carpentry, building himself a fancy tree house (!) somewhere in Olympia. Pour one on the curb for Hollywood, and then imagine how much cooler he would be if he could claim his jobs were to protest apartheid.
Anyway, STANDER is obviously a great story, and that would be enough, but it also so happens that it is very well directed. The filmatist is Bronwen Hughes, a woman who previously directed one critically acclaimed kiddy movie for Nickelodeon and one unpopular romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck. Then she disappeared for a while, maybe travelling the world to train with all the great masters or some crap like that. And she came back with this surprise for us.
The ’70s feel is real strong. The film looks washed out almost like it could’ve really been shot in those better years, before movies sucked. There’s a nice soulful rock score, obviously modern at times but always with a driving, funky beat like you need in a movie like this but usually don’t get these days. The story rolls out at a quick pace, jumping from job to job, occasionally even speeding the film up to get to its destination sooner. At the same time, there’s no MTV bullshit, none at all. This one is pure.
Obviously one thing that makes the movie stand out is the setting. It was all shot in South Africa (now proudly apartheid free) so it doesn’t look like your standard Hollywood movie. Everything seems real cluttered and close together. The streets are crowded, which helps Stander to sneak off and disappear after his jobs. And it’s a shock when the movie goes from the plush white residences to the shantytowns (where “our blacks have the highest standard of living on the continent” says one defensive white guy). What’s even more shocking is the way the movie made me like these white people living with apartheid. I’ve always wondered how those people could even look themselves in the mirror, but by painting a believable picture of their lives here the movie makes it easier to understand. Without going too far it makes you empathize a little bit with the poor sap white people born into that bullshit, and witness the fear they must’ve felt when they saw on TV what was going down. Sorry whites, the gig is up. Oh yeah and, get down on the ground, this is a robbery.
I ain’t exaggerating. This really is a great movie. A crowdpleasing crime story with the added bonus of interesting political themes. It does a great job of making you face Stander’s dilemma – what do you do when you realize you’re one of the bad guys? (His choice is probaly not the best solution, but oh well. It’s fun to watch.)
I really can’t recommend this one enough. It’s the best crime picture I’ve seen in years. Go see now Harry and friends.
thanks Harry and friends
Can’t wait. Sounds great.
Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/17815