Teenage African-American Latasha Harlin’s death (1991), and Rodney King’s beatings by the police officers and the trial that followed it started the infamous LA riots in 1992, which are ambitiously captured in the second feature film by the Turkish director Deniz Gamze Erguven. Penned back in 2011, Erguven’s script was not turned into a film until 2017. During that time the director released her debut feature “Mustang”, which premiered at Directors’ Fortnight program of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and was later shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Many will say that a non-American filmmaker cannot capture the madness that was occurring in the American history during those times. Some will also dispute that an outsider should not touch such a sensitive and painful page of the contemporary history unless granted with public approval. This is what I was told before I went to see the film.
As I watched it, though, I realized – and I hope the reader will agree with me – it will be pointless to make a politically correct film about violence performed by the police or attacks on minorities in the US. If a director decides to address these subjects, they should make it bold, dark, violent, and as realistic as possible. That is exactly what Erguven captures in her film.
“Kings” follows Millie’s (Halle Berry) foster family with eight children in her house. She soon finds herself in the middle of violent riots that follow Rodney King’s trial.
The film begins with a teenage girl – Latasha Harlin entering a convenience store. She grabs a bottle of juice and puts it in the outside pocket of her backpack. Behind the counter works a Korean woman, whose family owns the store. She wrongly assumes that the girl wants to steal the juice and hurries to stop her. To prove her innocence, the girl tries to show the money she holds in her hand for the juice. The woman does not see that and provokes a further fight. To defend herself, the teenage girl strikes the woman with her fist three times and tries to escape from the store to save herself. That very moment, as she turns to run, she is shot in her head by the woman.
We are then taken back to Millie’s busy household. She is trying to wake her kids up. And we observe the love and care. It is seven weeks before the actual riots. Thus, this is the only moment when we see her calm and relaxed. The true chaos begins when her crazy but funny neighbor Obie (Daniel Craig) tries to help Millie to escape the insanity and danger that is spread outside of their houses. As the film moves on, the viewer is transported down the history lane, where we witness the historical events – as raw and unpleasant as they truly have been.
Deniz Gamze Erguven’s “Kings” is a powerfully directed film with an excellent structure that allows the viewer to experience the atmosphere of those events, which, frankly speaking, one would rather not see at all. Halle Berry and Daniel Craig appear in quite unlikely roles. However, they are a perfect match to star in this film, where most of the characters try to survive the night.
To conclude, I should state that Erguven has dealt with this very interesting and delicate subject fearlessly and with confidence. It is quite possible that the film receives a lot of criticism after its release. Still, that won’t change the fact that “Kings” is a brilliantly crafted work with all positive implications.