At long last… James Bond and Jinx Johnson are reunited. Now the rioting in the streets for this reunion can stop. Oh… wait… was that joke clever, or insensitive? Or both? I’ll take both!
The story says it takes place in 1992 and it looks like it’s about a mom who looks after a bunch of kids, some of them aren’t hers, but does what she can to make sure they’re good kids and stay out of trouble while racial tensions are high, and it looks like some of the boys she looks after get into some trouble with the law.
Now for the crew. Writing and directing, we have Deniz Gamze Ergüven, and she is known for stuff that I’ve never heard of. Co-composing the score are Nice Cave and Warren Ellis, both known for WIND RIVER (2017) and HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016). The cinematographer is David Chizallet, known for stuff I’ve never heard of, but has worked with Ergüven before. Finally, the editor is Mathilde Van de Moortel, who has also worked with Ergüven before.
Overall, I have no idea what to expect. Although I do wonder what a Turkish filmmaker knows about the 1992 Rodney King riots that this movie is based around. Then again, who am I to judge? I’ve lived in Southern California since I was eight years old and I don’t even know what the Rodney King riots were. Yes yes, taxi driver beaten repeatedly by police officers that were acquitted in court despite video footage broadcasted on all the major television news networks, I just looked that up. Still, I don’t know the precise details, so maybe this’ll be educational. Then again, I’m seeing some early ratings and reviews, and this movie is getting butchered. Man, Berry just can’t seem to catch a break, can she?
This is my honest opinion of: KINGS
Set in the backdrop of the Rodney King Riots, circa the 1992. Millie Dunbar (Halle Berry), a single foster mother doing her best to take care of several kids. But as racial tensions rise, riots become more commonplace as innocent people are arrested, random people are stolen from or assaulted, and Millie and her kids are caught in the middle of all of it.
Ugh, I don’t want to hear a single person tell me that AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR had no plot because they’ve clearly not seen this movie.
I say this because I have no idea what this movie is trying to be about. On the one hand, it’s showing an awful lot of footage of the riots, as if we needed constant reminders about what this movie is set around. So one would think it’s trying to be a documentary. Yet, we’re constantly distracted by this other story about a woman who is… I guess a foster mom (more on that in a minute)? Anyway, it’s supposed to be a story of escalation. As the Rodney King story unfolds on the news, the kids become more agitated and try to be a part of sticking it to the police. While this doesn’t sound bad on paper, more time is dedicated to showing that Millie is kind of a bad mom and bickers with her neighbor, and none of this has anything to do with the riots.
Also… when the hell was it established that Millie was a foster mom? Maybe it’s implied somewhere, but here’s all that I saw: a woman picks up kids that she knows off the streets if she knows their parents are in jail, and it’s made clear by her own son that they “agreed that they would take any more kids off the street,” or something to that effect. I don’t know, she just seemed like a good Samaritan, not a licensed caretaker of homeless children. And if she is a foster mom, then I have to say that I’m not particularly impressed with her emotional reactions as such. I mean, when you get a phone call that one of your kids is going to be reunited with its original family, shouldn’t that be a happy occasion? Look, I’m no foster parent, and I imagine that foster parents are supposed to keep a relative distance from their charges, humans feel. Especially if a bond is formed, then I can imagine the emotional impact it could have on someone being particularly powerful. Still, it’s something they know is a possibility and wouldn’t put up such an emotional fuss, especially in front of the child in question.
Exactly, how much of the King Riots am I supposed to be familiar with in order to understand the events depicted? All I get out of what I’m shown is that the police assault Rodney King, the community at large is opposed to the police, and when three of the four officers responsible are acquitted, the riots start. I understand the tension between the common man and the authorities. So… why was everyone attacking random people, in their cars no less?! Was that even a thing that people did?! I honestly don’t follow any of it. Even if this was a thing that happened, and I won’t argue if this was factual, what the movie fails to convey is the reason why. There’s no explanation as to why this specifically happens. It’s just chaos for chaos reasons, and I can’t believe that this was the case. There’s nuances to why seemingly random shit happens in history and without that complex context, it’s just… shit happening for the sake of shit happening.
Another huge problem with the movie is that you don’t give a single shit about any of the characters. Millie’s an incompetent mother, foster or otherwise, Obie (Daniel Craig) is a dick who spontaneously has character shift for no apparent reasons, and when the hell was I ever supposed to care about Jesse (Lamar Johnson), Nicole (Rachel Hilson), or William (Kaalan Walker)? William is nothing but a blood-hungry dick-weed who will sleep with the girl that Jesse likes, Nicole shamelessly steals from honest business owners and shows a constant lack of gratitude for the things that Jesse does for her, and Jesse constantly crushes on Nicole that takes no care in him and only cares about the asshole with no redeeming qualities. William and Nicole are frustratingly two-dimensional and Jesse is bland and uninteresting… kind of repetitive of the whole “two-dimensional” comment, but it still stands. There’s no one worth following in this story.
Character motivations are certainly all over the place too. Here’s the scene in question. Mille’s calling three of her kids back inside for dinner. But when they decide to come back in, she locks them out to teach them a lesson about listening to her, intending to keep them out for a minute only. But then the kids run away and Millie’s running around the neighborhood looking for them all worried and shit, but can’t find them. Turns out, they were next door safe and sound with Obie. Um… questions. One, since when did Obie care about these kids? He’s threatened Millie with calling Child Protective Services, he’s never shown sympathy toward the kids before, so why is he sheltering kids that have constantly caused him grievances? Granted, people aren’t monsters, but it’s not exactly their responsibility either. Two, if he had those kids the entire time, why didn’t he ever go next door to inform Millie that he had the kids? Maybe just for the first ten-ish minutes to calm them down, but Millie looked like she was spending hours looking for them. Third, why was this act of kindness all of a sudden worth her getting wet dreams about Obie? He did something nice, but I don’t think that’s enough to warrant instant sexual attraction. Fourth, why does he share that kindness toward her? Again, there’s never been civility between them before, so why do they shift so intensely after this scene? Five, why are the wet dreams so damn weird?? Literally, within the dream, Obie says, “This is just a dream,” and Millie desperately cries out, “No! You’re mine!” Sorry, did I say weird? I meant… insane. Oh, and her reaction to seeing Obie the next morning is a reaction you’d see from a preteen with a crush, rather than a grown-ass woman who ought to have better control of her emotions.
It’s barely even a technically competent film. The editing is incredibly awkward, for one. It’s the kind of editing you’d find in a comedy, not in a hardcore drama like this. There’s a bit where Millie is driving down the road and one minute, is waving happily to someone that I guess she recognizes, but then in a quick cut, she’ll be honking her horn angrily while in traffic. “Tone?” What’s that? Speaking of tone, this movie that’s about a pretty damn scary time in L.A. in the 90’s, there are way too many whimsical moments of this family playing in their backyard, laughing and having a good time. Not that having fun, or having light-hearted moments in times of chaos, but this was off the scales in a highly inappropriate way. Another bit is when the kids are being taught to shoplift because Millie isn’t around to feed them, so one of the kids looks like he’s running toward the exit with stolen food, with a bunch of people watching him like they know he’s stealing something, but then the very next shot is that same kid walking nonchalantly with the rest of the group he came with.
Also, why are these thieving moments depicted as fun? That also doesn’t seem very appropriate either. And I swear to God, shit just happens in this movie for no reason. Like, apparently, William steals a Super Nintendo for the kids. This sort happens for no reason as we never see the kids play on the system in the movie, and somehow Millie doesn’t ever find out about it. So why was this five second scene necessary for the movie? I wouldn’t make such a big deal about it if it was the only one of it’s kind in a better movie, but this isn’t a better movie, so I have to rag on it.
Oh, and if anyone complains about MAN OF STEEL (2013) and its shameless product placement, slap them upside the head and point them to this fuckin’ movie. I shit you not, there is a solid two minutes of a Burger King employee talking to these kids about why they shouldn’t throw Molotov cocktails at his store, literally throwing down prices for their burgers, fries, milkshakes, it’s positively painful. And this is coming from a guy who is never bothered by product placement. Literally. MAN OF STEEL? Whatever, IHOPs exist. What’s the big deal? POWER RANGERS (2017)? Rita Repulsa eating a doughnut was funny! The closest to a product placement that’s ever bothered me was WORLD WAR Z (2013) when Brad Pitt drinks from a can of Coke and is shot in a way that’s obviously a commercial. But even that I found slight entertainment from it. This… just… just no.
Overall, this is an awful movie. It has subject matter that could be educational and powerful if done right. With awfully written characters that no one can connect with, two intersecting story-lines that don’t connect in any way, bad writing, bad editing, bad direction, there’s nothing really redeeming other than Berry and Craig weirdly churning out solid performances. I’ve seen worse, but this ninety minute movie is harder to sit through than AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. As a recommendation, pass on this, folks. It’s not worth your time, even as a rental. This movie is like a Molotov cocktail filled with water: threatening at a glance, but is ultimately an annoying mess.
My honest rating for KINGS: 2/5