South Africa, the 1970s. Andre Stander, a white police detective, asks to be excused from riot duty after shooting a black demonstrator. Alienated and guilt-ridden, he embarks on a bank-robbing spree. Caught by his former colleagues, he escapes from prison and forms an outlaw gang.
This needs its ‘based on a true story’ caption because otherwise you’d never believe it. It also means the film is obliged to depict the headline-grabbing incidents while just hinting at the stories behind the story. Thomas Jane’s Andre Stander — a cop-turned-crook-turned folk hero — remains a mystery to the end. Is he deranged by the surrealism of a system which prosecutes him for robbery but not murder? Such a clever detective he feels compelled to outsmart his own colleagues? A doomed rebel on the run imitating the movie versions of Butch Cassidy and Clyde Barrow? A family man agonised by his estrangement from his wife (Unger) and father (Marius Weyers)? A privileged white Sahth Afrikaan boor who deserves a thorough beating from the township blacks he’s taken shots at? A bit of a nut out for a good time and plenty of cash? A ruthless criminal genius who wants to make a quick buck and clear out for the States? All of the above? Different scenes take different tacks, as does a running commentary from the media, family and friends, the authorities and the man in the street. Credit to Jane, fresh from the clear-cut action antics of The Punisher (a not dissimilar character in many ways), for letting the ambiguities stand while delivering a career-best performance (and accent). Stander executes heists with casual efficiency and near-suicidal daring — at one point, the gang deliberately rob the bank next door to the HQ of the police task force specifically charged with running them to ground — but Jane gets a lot out of moments of quiet, unfathomable reflection.Director Bronwen Hughes, who made the Ben Affleck-Sandra Bullock rom-com Forces Of Nature, uses Stander’s crime spree to depict a divided, dysfunctional society, showing sleek Johannesburg banks and shack-filled shanty towns through a sunny but sickly haze, as if moral pollution hangs in the air. After the smug liberal breast-beating of films like Cry Freedom and A Dry White Season, it’s refreshing to see a film set in pre-Mandela South Africa that isn’t just about the injustices of apartheid — though, in the end, the central thesis is that a country where ‘a white man can get away with anything’ makes Andre Stander inevitable.
An unusual crime/social history document, carried off well with a star turn that shifts Jane up a notch or two.