I’m a crime novel junkie. I’ve read every Michael Connelly, every Harlan Coben, every Jeffrey Deaver and every James Lee Burke novel there is. Lee Burke’s main character is Detective Dave Robicheaux of New Iberia Parish in Louisiana, and you can virtually smell the bayou and the grilled crawfish and the pimples of sweat on the necks of characters and beer bottles. Michael Connelly has Detective Harry Bosch whose turf is LA; every time Bosch steps out, you almost need to squint in the SoCal sunshine, and the smog sticks viscerally to the back of your throat. Great writing.
James Elroy is another crime author who’s made LA his beat – and the vividness of his settings have translated well to movies – think of the remarkable LA Confidential, or Dark Blue, or the creepy and kind of sick Black Dahlia. Elroy also wrote the novel of Street Kings, and he also wrote the script of the film that bears the same title.
Street Kings is again a convoluted and twisting tale of trust and betrayal in and around the LA Police Department. Basically Keanu Reaves – somewhat fleshier, wearier and evidently ageing (occasionally the camera angles aren’t kind) – is a drink-addled, hot-head vigilante-style cop whose boss (Forest Whitaker) is always getting him out of scrapes. When Reaves learns that his ex-partner has gone to Internal Affairs, he thinks he’s been set up. However, things are not quite what they seem. I say “not quite” because – inspite of a great supporting cast that includes Hugh Laurie and Chris Evans (beauty-and-the-geek) – it takes about three and a half minutes to realise what the twist is going to be. Shame, really.
Where Street Kings works though is its atmospheric portrayal of LA in all it’s scuzzy, sprawling, chaotic grunge. As the Channel 4 review says:
To acknowledge Street Kings’s one major bonus first, Ayer’s insistence on ensconcing his film in LA’s less salubrious, violent heartlands reaps its rewards, adding an irreplaceable scuffed authenticity to the tale. Unfortunately movies, unlike housing, aren’t all location, location, location.