May 9, 2018

Kings: Halle Berry Frantically Searches for Her Kids in the Rodney King Riots

By Kam Williams

On March 3, 1991, five LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) officers were caught on camera viciously beating an unarmed black man who had led them on a high-speed chase instead of pulling over as directed. When the police cornered him, the driver, Rodney King, suffered a broken ankle, a broken cheekbone, multiple skull fractures, and chipped teeth in the subsequent assault by the police with their billy clubs.

A year later, riots broke out all over South Central Los Angeles after a jury acquitted all the officers involved in the arrest. Six days later, 63 people had died and thousands of businesses had been looted and burned to the ground, with over a billion dollars in damages.

What was it like in the midst of the chaos and conflagration? That is the question Deniz Gamze Erguven tries to answer in Kings, a surreal story describing a foster mother’s frantic search for her missing children at the height of the Rodney King riots.

The talented Turkish writer/director made a spectacular debut a couple of years ago with Mustang, a movie that received an Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Film category. Kings is her second feature-length movie, and her first in the English language.

The ambitious movie earns an A for the convincing way in which it recreates pandemonium, but only a C for coherency. The film is a series of loosely connected, impressionistic vignettes, instead of a traditional narrative. It stars Academy Award-winner Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) as Millie Dunbar, an overworked single-mother with eight foster children.

When the civil unrest breaks out, she sets out to find her kids with the help of her next-door neighbor, Obie, who is the last white guy living in the ‘hood and who is also afraid to leave the security of his house. Obie is played by Daniel Craig, who somehow summons up the courage to get out of his house to help Millie round up her children.

The plot thickens when the two are mistaken for looters by a gruff cop (Kirk Baltz) who is too overwhelmed by the situation to listen to any explanations. Millie and Obie end up handcuffed to each other and the close quarters affords them an opportunity to get better acquainted.

This grim movie is blessed with a retro soundtrack featuring James Brown’s African-American anthem “Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud,” Bill Withers’ haunting, R&B classic “City of the Angels,” and Nina Simone’s searing rendition of “Ooh Child.”

Very Good (***). Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, and pervasive profanity. Running time: 92 minutes. Production Studios: Bliss Media/CG Cinema/Maven Pictures. Distributor: The Orchard Company.