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Overall Rating
4.17

Awesome: 25%
Worth A Look66.67%
Average: 8.33%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 6 user ratings


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Stander
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by Chris Parry

"An incredible story told with a deft touch, but not enough cash."
4 stars

It's a brave move to create a South African period piece about a rebellious police officer who decided to become a bank robber. For starters, a US audience will really need to be heavily persuaded to get off their hineys and into a movie theater for a South African story that doesn't involve Nelson Mandela. Next, any time a movie is filled with foreign accents, US distributors generally feel tempted to weaken them, dub over them or place subtitles under them (Full Monty anyone?). So really, who is going to throw their money into a dramatic action comedy with accents about foreigners? Thankfully, Newmarket Films has.

Andre Stander (Thomas Jane) was a South African cop on his way up in the South African police force in 1978. The son of a former law enforcement hero, Stander had just been promoted to Second Lieutenant when he remarried his long time love Bekkie (Deborah Kara Unger) and went off to perform his weekly 'riot duty' in a black township, promising his new wife he'd "look after himself".

But at the scene of the riot (or, really, peaceful protest), the white cops decide to start fighting fist with bullets, and Stander stands shocked as his colleagues gun down unarmed black men, and then go out for a snack. Disgusted with his lot in life, Stander begins to crumble. He asks to be taken off riot duty, even though it means the end of his career, and soon realizes that while the cops are off beating black people, nobody is really looking after the banks.

Thus begins the kind of incredible "true story" that you'd assume just could not possibly have been depicted completely accurately here. The actions of Stander and his crew are just too incredible to be completely true.

But really, who cares if artistic license has been taken or not? This is a genuinely compelling film, directed and shot with skill and talent far above what you'd expect in a moderately budgeted 'heist' film. Credit director Bronwen Hughes for that, showing that plenty has been learned on her previous directorial outings, Harriet the Spy and forces of Nature. Hughes' visual style give the film an added oomph that even a string of great performances from the leads can't outshine.

Thomas Jane is outstanding throughout as the title character. He deftly mixes comedy with drama in ways not seen in his previous work (and unlikely to be seen in the upcoming Punisher film). Deborah Kara Unger handles an accent just fine, and looks even finer, with neither of the two stumbling noticably under the pressure of combined genres, intense romance and a foreign tongue.

There's a story here that had to be a feature film someday, but the way the story is told in this film is pretty darn close to where it needs to be to cross over into the mainstream. The politics are kept to the background for the majority of the film (though the opening 'riot' scene is an astonishingly well presented battle scene that would have done Ridley Scott or Jerry Bruckheimer proud), and the early sympathy that Stander elicits for his principles doesn't turn into sugary violin muzak when he cross over from Robin Hood to egocentric showoff.

There's action. There's sex. There's laughs. What more could you ask for?

If anything, Stander comes up a little short simply because of the small size of the production itself. A story this intriguing really deserved an epic budget and a marketing campaign to match, and though the filmmakers have put together a finished product that stands up well against the majority of what Hollywood puts out, it does tend to sit small on the screen when you should be on the edge of your seat. Well worth a look, and well worth a wide release, Stander is a remarkable achievement and a career outing for Bronwen Hughes that promises huge things down the road.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8873&reviewer=1
originally posted: 03/15/04 07:43:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2004 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/24/17 Dino Livanos I was about 16, living in Johannesburg in '78 VERY accurate film 5 stars
10/08/06 William Goss Thoroughly impressive biopic, especially thanks to Jane's performance, decent direction. 4 stars
10/02/05 Anthony Excellent performances, amazing story, a real underrated gem of a film. 4 stars
6/08/05 Agent Sands Finally audiences learn about a great real-life criminal besides Capone or Bonnie & Clyde. 5 stars
6/02/04 Rita Johnson great acting - a dynamic sympathetic portrayal of a difficult and complex person 5 stars
3/20/04 Bingo was his name-o Unbelievable story, but patchy. 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  06-Aug-2004 (R)
  DVD: 21-Dec-2004

UK
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Australia
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