Kings is an incomplete film with a 90s backdrop of Los Angeles, weeks before the city’s infamous riots. Centred around Rodney King’s public beating, the trial, and the controversial verdict that followed, Millie Dunbar (Halle Berry) accepts youth into her foster family as she observes the racial divide between South Central’s black community and the LAPD.
How is Kings incomplete, you ask? How else do you describe a movie that conveys itself so shiftlessly with a lack of transitions, continuity, logic, and good taste?
This incoherent effort was written/directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, a filmmaker who earned critical acclaim for her Oscar nominated feature debut Mustang, but it’s hard to believe Kings resembles anyone’s original vision. The narrative timeline is established by a single title card at the beginning (“Seven Weeks To The Riots”) and occasional aerial shots of the city, but the passage of time is never determined. We see Dunbar’s family cross-dissolved by video of the city or news footage, and the film will either cut back to them in the same position, at another time of day, or a completely different week.
A romantic arc between Millie and her neighbour Obie (Daniel Craig) is just as vague. Obie is a neurotic individual who seems to hate everyone, including the children next door and Millie (which is a mutual feeling from the mother). However, over a few hours, a sunshiny Obie is cheering up the kids, leading Millie to sexual fantasies about her neighbour. In the third act, Obie and Millie find themselves handcuffed to a lamppost, which has a completely different energy than their previous feelings of disgust and lust.
This is similar to another romance in Kings. Millie’s most dependable boy Jesse (Lamar Johnson) is falling for a lost teen named Nicole (Rachel Hilson). They spend the day together. They have a bite to eat, they…have a car wash, they….discover a toilet’s been stolen then….find the person who stole the toilet and return the porcelain throne. Meanwhile, during the same montage, Millie’s latest take-in William (Kaalan Walker) shows the other kids how easy it is to steal. They go to the grocery store and steal two-carts worth of large items without anyone noticing. Right away during the next cutaway, William comes home with a Super Nintendo, and it’s never referred to again – not even by Millie. This taste of crime, I suppose, is what fuels some of the kids to threaten a local Burger King during the rampaging riots. They hold flammables as a skittish employee makes a case and rambles off an entire menu of Burger King items that the kids won’t get to eat if the restaurant burns down.
That Burger King scene is just one of the many moments in the movie that makes you laugh out of confusion or stammer at the awful timing. Remember, Kings builds towards these riots. It’s a memory that filmmakers usually portray with sensitivity to connect distressed emotions with racial tensions that finally bubbled over into violence. Deniz Gamze Ergüven, however, doesn’t have an ounce of compassion towards the subject matter. She uses real news footage to provide context, and shuffles it away to halfheartedly build relationships between characters the audience hardly gets to know.
Kings is offensively sloppy, and one of the worst films of the year.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie