Saturday, August 20, 2005

Movie Review: "Stander"

Starring Tom Jane, Deborah Kara Unger, Dexter Fletcher, David Patrick O'Hara, Ashley Taylor
Directed by Bronwen Hughes

A relatively little known film of a little known story, "Stander" tells the strange but true tale of Andre Stander, a respected policeman who would later become one of South Africa's most notorious criminals.
Thomas Jane, in a fairly effective performance, plays Stander as a fun-loving, but slightly reckless cop, who sees those character traits serve him well in his new career as a bank robber. Stander seemingly turns to crime as a response to his anger and disgust at his government's policies on apartheid. A tense, but well filmed early scene shows Stander and a large group of police assembled to quell a gathering of Africans in a run-down village in Soweto – by any means necessary. That inevitably leads to violence, with the police (including Stander, much to his disgust) shooting a number of the unarmed protesters.
Stander begins to rob banks as an unfocused protest to what he sees as a corrupted government, and is incredibly brazen with his crimes initially, choosing to steal without a disguise. Amazingly, in a few instances, he would return to the scene of the crime as the investigating officer. But suspicions from his partner (Ashley Taylor) lead to his arrest and incarceration.
However, Stander manages to break out of prison with the help of two accomplices (Dexter Fletcher and David Patrick O'Hara), who then quickly form their own bank robbery gang. The thefts then continue, with Stander seemingly unable or unwilling to stop, despite the pain and embarrassment he has brought to his family, including wife Bekkie (Deborah Kara Unger). After a while, the film seems to be spinning its wheels, showing one bank robbery after another, long after the point that this gang is good has been made. Still, the sequence in which the gang decides to rob a bank next door to a temporary police headquarters is pretty entertaining. One of the gang even stops to compare his appearance to a photo of himself on a "wanted" flyer outside the headquarters.
Despite the film's stylish appeal during the robberies, it never clearly defines Stander's decision to turn to crime. As a longtime and well-liked policeman, his turn to a criminal life seems too rapid and unrealistic. Taking into account that the events are based on a true story, it would certainly seem like director and co-writer Bronwen Hughes has take some liberties with the story.
As the film heads into the final act of the film, the story seems a bit lacking and less than satisfying, with an anticlimactic wrap-up. If anything, the film leaves you wondering who Stander really was and why he did what he did. But then maybe he would ask himself the same questions.

Grade: C+
(Rated R for for violence, language, some sexuality and nudity.)

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