Stander Movie Review

Johannesburg. The late '70s. Nelson Mandela is still in jail. Cries of "Amandla!" ("Freedom!") still ring from protesters. White police still put down these riots with brutality. Andre Stander (Thomas Jane) is an appalled police captain, complicit in these acts. Stander tells the true story of what happens when he can take no more, with surprisingly tepid results.

The film opens with a brief window on Stander's life. He's just re-married his ex, Bekkie (Deborah Kara Unger). His star is on the rise in the department. All is well. Until he finds himself shooting an unarmed black youth during a particularly bloody demonstration. He can't shake the feeling that the "wrong people" are dying. He resigns from Riot Patrol, only to find that when everyone else is out on that task, "a white man can get away with anything." So he does. As if on a whim, he robs a bank.

He soon finds this to be a satisfying way to act out his frustrations. Donning disguise after disguise, he ups the ante with increasingly brazen thefts. Ultimately the authorities track him down and send him to prison, but this only seems to encourage him. Two years later he escapes and forms a gang with fellow inmates Allan Heyl (David Patrick O'Hara) and Lee McCall (Dexter Fletcher). And then he really starts to have fun.

Unfortunately, that's when the movie really starts to slow down. Ironically, it's the pop-soundtrack-driven, Reservoir Dogs-style crime spree that's the least interesting element in the film. Director Bronwen Hughes films it with flair, and there are some daring and clever criminal flourishes throughout, but since we never really get to know Stander or understand what drives him to continue to commit these crimes, we're left to question, in the words of McCall, "what's the point?"

The film is actually at its most compelling when dealing with the forces that ostensibly drive Stander to break the law in the first place: The early parts of the film that show the injustice and corruption he must face. His relationship with his father (Marius Weyers), a career cop. His attempt to make amends for his actions in the Riot Patrol. The robberies actually seem like a distraction from this material since they're never tied in very well to it. There's a thin, superficial link between sticking it to The Man and the injustices of The Man, but as drawn here it only comes off as an excuse. And it certainly doesn't explain the self-destructive streak that drives the tragic and disturbing finale.

Jane's performance is strong. If we don't feel like we're getting a clear picture of Stander, it's the script's fault, not his. With what he has to work with, he creates a stoic, but seething, figure. Fletcher makes a nice turn as McCall but, like Stander, his character's motivations are unclear and we're never quite sure why he begins to unravel as the film goes on.

Hughes throws in some neat visual tricks here and there, but the overall effect smacks of a second-rate Snatch or GoodFellas. You only want to show your heroes walking in slow motion to a Bad Company song if you absolutely have to.

Ultimately, Stander feels like a film that should be more enjoyable than it actually is. It's got a great premise, flashy (albeit borrowed) imagery, and a strong lead. Somehow, though, you still find yourself checking your watch as the film drags on, wondering how something so interesting can be reduced to something so unexciting.

Stand for billiards.


Stander Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2004


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