Blithe and bonny, but no Clyde
"Stander" tries to paint its cop-turned-crook story with a little anti-apartheid rebel glory, but it's really just a soulless caper flick.
By PETER THEIS
Like fusion cuisine, the fusion of film genres (here, vˇritˇ
social-consciousness film and glossy caper flick) is a high-risk / high-reward
endeavor in which the outcome may be uncertain, but there is redeeming honor
in the courage and imagination of the attempt. Honor also lies in
recovering the contributions of people who participated in the hard-won
success of a just social cause, but did not play a leadership role and are
forgotten in history and popular imagination. Sadly, "Stander," a cinematic
interpretation of a real-life cop turned bank robber in apartheid-era South
Africa, forfeits all honor by its meretricious use of anti-apartheid
The early portion telegraphs promise with a well-rendered depiction
of a 1976 student-led shantytown demonstration which becomes an unprovoked,
police-perpetrated massacre. Participating in the massacre, and killing one
of the demonstration's leaders, is the titular Johannesburg Captain Andre
Stander (Thomas Jane), a man of brilliant prospects, good family, and
frequent nudity. Stander has immediate misgivings about his conduct and the
role of police, as signified by his spontaneous beating of some flip
subordinates and subsequent career-killing request to be removed from riot
|Directed by: Bronwen Hughes.|
Written by: Bima Stagg.
Cast: Thomas Jane, Dexter Fletcher, Deborah Kara Unger, Marius Weyers, Ashleigh Taylor.
Cinematography: Jess Hall.
Edited by: Robert Ivison.
Related links: Official site
Thence begins a steepening descent from earnest political-awakening
film to criminal eye for the cop guy glamour shoot, replete with slow-motion
takes of Stander in full mid-'70s sartorial splendor. The shift from social
text to so-cool textiles and rote heist-glorification is abrupt, occurring
after Stander robs his first bank shortly after the massacre. The film
suggests a causal connection between the unpremeditated crime and Stander's
disillusionment, but does not go to pains to develop the connection (rather,
by way of character development, the audience is treated to a vintage '80s
thriller-style sex scene between Stander and wife).
From this point on, earnestness is dropped so that the motif of
frolicsome misbehavin' (cue catchy '70s tunes here) has suitable space to
entertain. Stander robs bank after bank, evading identification by virtue
of disguise and being the least likely suspect. Then he is caught in the
usual movie manner and sentenced to years of hard labor. Does Stander
undergo further politicization in prison? Don't ask, because the film will
not answer now that it is in full and near-permanent fast-edit excitement
mode. What's important is that Stander makes some buddies, and they all
break out of prison so that more banks can be dashingly robbed. The social
and political context skillfully evoked by the massacre scene has
evaporated, to be invoked only in fig-leaf form to confer a spurious lefty
legitimacy on the good times.|
Pouring its period-detail plaster into the root-for-the-criminals
cast of "Catch Me if You Can" and "Goodfellas," "Stander" fails in one respect
because, even taken merely as a caper movie, its narrative surface is
wrapped in a chain of linked clichˇs heady heist success, dissension,
need-of-a-good-woman, guilt-unburdening, almost-capture, father-son
reconciliation, and so on. But mostly "Stander" fails because its core proves
so hollow. The hollowness is amplified manyfold by the infrequent,
ludicrous, threepenny efforts (two-bit is too generous) to inflect Stander's
exploits as he drives his yellow Porsche and buys a mansion and yacht with
cash with anti-apartheid political hue. As thousands sacrifice their
lives and freedom to end the racialist regime, Stander does his part by
undermining authority through gamboling from bank job to bank job, thereby
precipitating "chaos in the system." Never mind that, unlike his U.S.
counterparts, the Weathermen, Stander and his accomplices keep their
proceeds and live phat.
Nonetheless, even despite the obvious problems with portraying
Stander as some sort of Bonnie and Clyde folk antihero, had the filmmakers
opted to explicate Stander's political motivations in more than mere
throwaway lines, or perhaps critiqued them as shallow rationalizing, some
credibility would have been established. As the film stands, however, more
attention is paid to Stander's celebrity status than the basis of his
iconoclastic folk appeal, which will permit astute future cultural scholars
to easily identify this film as a product of the E! school of filmmaking.
However this film is marketed, Stander's story crosses the projector's
backlight not for the sake of bringing an uncelebrated crusader's life to
light, nor for the sake of portraying an inspiring (white, of course) rebel
in a dark regime. We know him now because, under the film industry's
assumption that we are a star-gazing culture, the jump from obscurity to
notoriety is presumed to be fascinating in itself especially if the
subject has an outrˇ lifestyle which can be hiply scored and stylized.
|AUGUST 9, 2004|
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