Street Kings is a cop thriller/action movie much in the vein of Training Day and Narc, that takes many risks with its characters and plot and succeeds at most of them. Tom Ludlow (Keenau Reeves) is cop and member of a unit that headed by Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker). Ludlow is the garbage man of the team, the spear tip; he does the dirty work and is protected by Wander, his Captain and best friend. What is immediately apparent at the beginning of Street Kings is Reeves drinking problem. What is not immediately apparent is why he has a drinking problem but rest assured. Like any decent screenplay, it eventually is revealed. This is the part of Keanu’s character that is underdeveloped and had it been given more substance, would have added some depth to his character. It has nothing to do with Keanu’s performance, which is more than adequate in this film. It’s nice seeing Keenau play an anti-hero and not the typical “nice guy.” Forest Whitaker is also great in this film and the people that make up the rest of Keanu’s unit, Mike Clady (Jay Mohr), Demille (John Corbett) and Cosmo Santos (Amaury Nolasco), you’ve seen before on television, film, in some cases both and all deliver when they have to.
The garbage man of the team, Ludlow, kills criminals under the guise of self-defense, something Biggs (Hugh Laurie), a Captain in the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB), is not buying. Neither is Reeves’ old partner Terrence Washington (Terry Crews), whom Reeves believes is testifying against him to IAB. All is not what it seems in Street Kings and as the layers of the onion are pulled away, certain character’s motivations become clear, hidden agendas are revealed and some characters do a one-eighty. This is the aspect of Street Kings that I found most interesting: the way people that seem relatively good (though they murder criminals in cold blood) turn bad (or badder) in the blink of an eye.
The characters’ in Street Kings are not written as well as those found in Narc and though it is extremely violent, Street Kings is not as visceral as the aforementioned film or as entertaining as Running Scared (2006). There are a few exceptions however. The result of one shootout is particularly unsettling in that the victim does not die right away. You are shown the damage that was done by the bullets, you see the pain in their eyes and it makes you feel something, a testament to how well the scene was acted and filmed.
David Ayer’s Street Kings is a more interesting film than it seems. You expect and get brutal gun fights and action. It’s all of the things you don’t expect; along with the testosterone-laden acting, that assist this film in not being forgettable or mediocre. Street Kings is a good effort at a cop action/thriller that never reaches the quality of Infernal Affairs, the character depth of Narc or the rollercoaster action extremes of Running Scared (2006).