DIRECTOR: Donovan Marsh
CAST: S’dumo Mtshali, Presley Chweneyagae, Israel Makoe (Skroef), Owen Sejake (Mabanae), Warren Masemola (g8) Hlubi Mboya (Gugu) Percy Matsemela (Slim), Carlo Radebe (Kenny/Dex)
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
DIRECTOR Donovan Marsh makes Joburg gangsters look cool in his action-filled heist film.
It’s not that the characters are incredibly suave or particularly good-looking, it is just that the cinematography, lighting, framing – all the technical bits we don’t notice unless they go wrong on a film – go oh so right on this one.
Marsh mixes ruthless action with some light comic touches which keep the tense action sequences from overwhelming the senses. He also draws some strong characterisation from the actors, giving them enough space to create some familiar, yet individual characters with their own ticks and emotions.
There’s the Cape Town coloured gangsta (played by Brendon Daniels) who turns out to be very different to the other guys, and the Cheesegirl with her own agenda, played by Mboya.
Radebe has fun playing a down-and-out actor-turned-gangster, whose motives and commitment are constantly questioned by the rest of the gang while Israel Makoe makes a chilling psychopath of his violence-prone Skroef.
From the opening sequence – where Chweneyagae’s Shoes talks Mtshali as Chili through a tense situation via a crappy cell connection – to the last nasty confrontation, it is action stations go! And though we may recognise the heist genre cues, they are all realised through a Joburg lens, so the language (subtitled Zulu mixed with slang), expressions and body language are based in our reality, not a made up Hollywood lala land.
The same is true of the basic plot – Shoes and Chili are policemen who have never taken bribes, but after eight years on the job they still can’t make ends meet and their boss is telling them to look the other way and lose evidence.
“The gravy train has left without us,” Chili tells Shoes as he tries to persuade his friend to help him go undercover in a gang planning a heist, but with a view to keeping the money, not catching the bad guys.
Season 1 winner of the reality show Class Act, Mtshali handles the action sequences with aplomb, though when it comes to the simpler sequences where he is called on to simply act, he appears wooden in comparison to Chweneyagae.
Where Chili takes the plunge into the dark side with seeming ease, Shoes struggles to do the wrong thing and their different responses will find resonance with many an audience member.
The film outlasts its welcome by two scenes though, with a neatly tied bow which would never have happened in real life… Or at least not in downtown Joburg, around the corner from The Star building, which is where those scenes were filmed.
The film has been optioned for a Hollywood remake, but the strong local flavour is what makes this so much fun.
How this will translate to an American context remains to be seen. Unless they do it here with local actors? But who knows what they’ll do since they are apparently rewriting the script.
Catch the original on the big screen. You will be pleasantly surprised by how far the South African film industry has come since the late 1990s when we were more likely to be the film site of a low budget C-grade action movie than the generator of an A-grade one.
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