By Charles Kirkland Jr.
Another snapshot of life during one of the most trying times in race relations in US history comes to life in a disturbing and depressing drama, Kings.
Maddie (Halle Berry) is a foster mother with a heart of gold. When one of her “children” is returned to their family, despite having seven other children in her home, Maddie bawls with heartbreak over the loss. With the help of oldest son, Jesse (Lamar Johnson), Maddie takes care of the children and sends them to school. She bakes, sells and delivers delicious looking cakes to bring money into the home. When Maddie saves the stubborn, no-good Will (Kalaan Walker) from a confrontation with the police, Jesse decides that Will is a bad influence on the family he turns to taking care of his own reclamation project, the beautiful but troubled, Nicole (Rachel Hilson) who is constantly getting into trouble. Her neighbor, the writer, Obie (Daniel Craig) adds fuel to the fire by injecting his personal bias on Maddie’s questionable parenting abilities. Maddie must find a way to deal with her unruly and unwieldy foster family against the rising tide of serious turmoil and unrest. As these tensions arise and explode, Maddie must find a way to protect everyone she loves.
Unlike last year’s Gook, a beautiful yet intensely sad story of the collateral damage from the Rodney King verdict, Kings is a maddeningly depressing and violent look at the direct effect of King verdict upon Maddie’s family and ultimately the community at large. Writer and director Deniz Gamze Ergüven (Matador) weaves together a dark tapestry of stories that while being completely cliché, i.e. the good boy-bad girl-bad boy love triangle and the totally opposite neighbors-turned-lovers, becomes a dense shroud when the threads of the Natasha Harlin and Rodney King verdicts are sewn into the story. The race relations storylines of Gook are replaced by police relations yet the themes of love and family remain. These strong bonds of love and family are tried, stretched and nearly ripped apart through the course of events in the film.
Newcomer Ergüven, whose first feature Matador received huge critical praise, joins Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) in being a white woman who fearlessly delves into creating a social commentary in a field that could be littered with landmines. Like Detroit, Kings illuminates the never-before-seen depths of police brutality and social injustice and by its sheer existence allows its viewers to draw parallels from it to current events. Unlike Detroit though, Kings does not re-create drama. Actual news footage is aired on televisions and radios and even word of mouth testimonies are used to re-create the atmosphere of 1992.
While Craig and Berry are the stars of the movie, the true power lies in the performances turned in by young television stars Lamar Johnson (The Next Step) and Rachel Hilson (Rise). The interactions between the two in the film set the parameters for the good vs evil discussions for the entire film. Unfortunately, viewers are never driven to care for Hilson’s Nicole and by the end of the film, they are not driven to like Johnson’s Jesse either. Berry’s performance is a good bounce back from the horrible Kidnap from last year but Craig’s is laughable at best.
Kings, rated R for violence, sexual content/nudity, and language throughout, succeeds in being a movie that shows more about the LA riots of 1992 but fails in complexity. While one is left to wonder whether the intentionally constant depressing tone of the movie is meant to convey the feelings of the people of the time, the increasingly dark tone makes watching the movie difficult. There’s little joy in the movie. There is confusion. There is anger. There is sadness. Maybe that is the whole point.