Written and Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven.
Starring Halle Berry, Daniel Craig, Lamar Johnson, Rachel Hilson, Isaac Ryan Brown, Callan Farris, Serenity Reign Brown, Reece Cody, and Lewis T. Powell.
The life of a foster family in South Central Los Angeles, a few weeks before the city erupts in violence following the verdict of the Rodney King trial.
Starting with what Kings (the first English language speaking film from French-born director Deniz Gamze Ergüven who helmed the Oscar-nominated Turkish film Mustang) does get right is far easier than listing off its every confounding stumble into unmitigated disaster. Soon following the infamous Rodney King beatings, a teenager encourages his brethren to steal various useful items and toys from a store, largely working due to the deflating sight of witnessing all of the above fall out of bags spread out onto the floor of their home (something that will be dived into more in just a little bit). The photography and mood do not glamorize the act, but show it for what it is; an empathetic act of revenge out of frustration against a system that has failed them and one that apparently does not find it necessary to punish blatant physical abuse of power from officers of the law.
The other takes place much later in the film (although, not necessarily much longer considering it lasts a swift 84 minutes but with enough time to still detour into tone deaf insanity) during the chaos of the Rodney King riots, as a Burger King manager attempts reasoning with those ready to set fire to his store burning it to the ground. There is a touch of humor to the segment that works because the situation feels genuine, which is something that cannot be said for anything else in the movie. I sincerely hope that some of the material in Kings is not a conscious attempt to elicit laughs; for one, it’s insensitive and incredibly difficult to pull off during racially charged riots running rampant through impoverished areas of Los Angeles) but mostly because none of the “jokes” are funny or even remotely grounded in reality.
Kings follows (even if it does fail) Millie (Halle Berry looking like a Hollywood star despite living in a poor neighborhood and stressed out from jobs and errands), a woman with a heart of gold and the inability to say no to bringing more stray children into her foster home of sorts. The children come from different races and ages alongside her biological son who happens to be the eldest; simply put, she’s a loving person that radiates and inspires kindness. The direction also focuses on the older children living in the house, except the editing is so poor that it feels like the two narrative threads are running parallel to each other rather than intertwined.
A love triangle also develops, but it barely registers and by the time the confusingly violent climax is underway, there is still no reason to give a damn. Also, one Hollywood star just isn’t enough, as Daniel Craig is also present living across the street as a novelist who literally fires his shotgun at the ceiling whenever he’s annoyed at the Brady Bunch making noise or something. Truthfully, I have no idea what sets him off, just that Craig looks like he stepped off the set of Spectre onto this trainwreck to be the token white savior. Honestly, Kings is more of a mess than whatever citywide damage was left behind by the Rodney King riots.
Occasionally, there is worthy cinematography showing off how destitute and sad life is for these children, but the film also makes the critical mistake of never developing any characters. The closest thing to someone likable and worth rooting for is Nicole (the love triangle desire played by the fiercely independent and confrontational Rachel Hilson), as she’s legitimately fearless, getting a terrific scene scolding a gang-banger looking to offer her a place to stay in exchange for sexual favors. Past that, Millie has dreams about getting it on with James Bond that is brought to life with abstract artistic flourishes that are unlike anything else in the movie (pitch black darkness surrounding the bed and nude bodies). Seriously, what the flip is this movie?
None of that comes close to the absurdity of the ending, which sees Halle Berry and Daniel Craig handcuffed to a street pole (the work of an exaggerated, cartoonish cop character) where James Bond decides to become MacGyver and strip off her pants to make a rope as a means of escape. Meanwhile, the young children are outside in the parking lot taking the car for a joyride. The goal of placing the audience into the Rodney King riots fails spectacularly; if anything this is more of a Looney Tunes episode where James Bond saves the day. Even the glimpses of home life are terrible, coming across as an episode of Malcolm in the Middle (nothing is subtle here, with fires constantly being started in the kitchen for example) rather than a tough upbringing. Look, Deniz Gamze Ergüven is a talented filmmaker, and I’m sure Kings was conceived with admirable intentions, but what made it to the screen is a dumpster fire. There is nothing redeemable.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com