Starring Halle Berry, Daniel Craig, Lamar Johnson,
Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang was one of the more impressive foreign film nominees last Oscar season. But Mustang wasn’t the film she really wanted to make. It was her 2011 screenplay that evolved into Kings, a story that focuses on one non-traditional family’s struggle during the 1991 LA riots. Landing two big stars (both former James Bond actors) is the only reason we are even talking about this project. Unfortunately, the creativity from Mustang it’s carried over. Kings is a very basic film, where the younger stars take up most of the narrative and screen time, while Berry (Kidnap) and Craig (Logan Lucky) appear in just enough scenes to satisfy their marquee credit. We see a real overuse of stock footage from the news, because the budget is so small, and the focus is more on the violence than the characters.
A big heart means a big household for Millie (Berry) who takes kids of the street that need a home. Six are currently in her foster care in South Central Los Angeles. The recent death of a young black girl by an Asian convenience store owner enraged the community. Following the press coverage of the Rodney King beating and then the unbelievable verdict, the streets become a war zone overnight. Millie is separated from her kids, including teenage Jesse (Johnson) who is trying to save the life of his friend and girlfriend amidst the chaos and confusion in the city. Millie and her hateful neighbor Obie (Craig) set out looking for the three younger children they spot on television involved in looting.
Kings is a very basic film, where the younger stars take up most of the narrative and screen time, while Berry (Kidnap) and Craig (Logan Lucky) appear in just enough scenes to satisfy their marquee credit.
The film begins seven weeks before the rioting, an attempt to familiarize us with these characters before they face street war. The development doesn’t work like it should, and Berry’s performance never explains her love or reason for creating a foster home. Ergüven shows us scene after scene of barbaric behavior from both the local citizens antagonizing law enforcement and the cops brutalizing innocent people. “Millie is too stupid to steal,” one of her latest teenage additions says, as he teaches the children how to rob a grocery store because they are starving. The correlation of children without a positive, moral influence isn’t lost on the animal like behavior portrayed in the film. Millie gives the children a roof and morning kisses but rarely has food for them. She is not the most equipped individual to help these desperate kids.
The screenplay, also by Ergüven, has Obie in one scene yelling at Millie to shut the children up, exhibiting violent episodes. Yet in another scene he is a nurturing, calm father-figure who entertains the kids he just screamed at. His character makes no sense, he’s never developed beyond “that guy Daniel Craig is playing”. It gets worse, Millie has a sex dream about her neighbor where he is walking on his hands towards her. The scene is photographed in a bizarre black room and Craig, clearly supposed to be on some sort of harness, looks completely ridiculous. If you are going to make a movie about the LA riots, do it right. Ergüven doesn’t have a handle on the depth or importance and she struggles to deliver any sound message.
A botched account of the 1991 LA Riots with an embarrassingly bad screenplay and two mainstream actors that look completely clueless.