Thomas Jane finally gets over that mirror-breaking incident. Then makes The Punisher. D'oh!
Crazy decade, the seventies. Unfortunately, while most civilised countries were fawning over flared trousers and huge sideburns, South Africa had more to worry about than which colour tint to go for in it's aviator sunglasses. With apartheid at the peak of it's irritable powers one police officer, Andre Stander (Thomas Jane), has had enough of being used as a killer front-line pawn in his institutionally racist government's game of clashing with the indigenous masses. After one attempt at riot dissolution sees Andre forced to kill a young black man in self defence, he comes to the conclusion that in a country where the white man can get away with anything it'd perhaps be better to use his power to further his own gains without harming anyone in the process. By robbing banks.
Seems a tad unlikely, except Stander is based on a true story, so far as the film industry can be trusted to stick to the facts. What's perhaps even more unlikely is that it's a rather nifty Thomas Jane vehicle. Ding dong, the witch is dead! In a performance that no doubt saw his family transformed from cursed stone figurines back into real people, Jane is actually mildly engaging as Stander, though his performance is not necessarily the best in the movie. That would be a toss-up between himself, an impressively accented Dexter Fletcher and David Patrick O'Hara as criminal mates Lee McCall and Allan Heyl respectively. Still, Jane's show it is, and there's no denying this is easily his best leading man role to date. Must have been a bit of a slap to go from this to The Punisher then.
What's reasonably refreshing about Stander is that it not only focuses on it's leading man's progression from cop to criminal and, over the course of his escapades, celebrity folk hero, but also the disillusionment that Andre took to heart in his transformation. As much bank-robbing and gun-toting as is present here, there's also a reasonable amount of introspection which, depending on which way you look at it, is either subtly underplayed by director Bronwen Hughes or, as I suspect, not quite emoted as intended by Jane. Still, limitations considered it's nice enough that it's there in sufficient quantity to lend some emotional depth to a tale that could so easily have been just another macho roller coaster ride. There's a disguised phone call from Stander to his father (Marius Weyers) in the final reel that proves quite an unexpectedly touching moment, and come the inevitable conclusion it's hard not to feel at last some sympathy for a man who felt at odds with the unjust society he was force-fed by all around him.
By no means a cinematic milestone, Stander is worthy enough of attention almost purely on the basis of it's protagonist's central performance being such a pleasant surprise, never mind the social comment and general excitability of it all. The biggest shame is that relatively few people are going to see it, going straight to DVD as it did in so many territories, and many will no doubt go through their lives unaware of the fact that Tom Jane can act. It seems there's very little justice in the world, but maybe that's not such a surprise if cops will insist on fooling around like our Andre. I have very little else to say other than scope this out if you get the chance. I can say with some assuredness that this is perhaps the best film hinged on South African accents since Lethal Weapon 2, so before I get too old for this shit I'm going to award it dee-plo-mah-tik immunitaaay. That was almost an entire review without any accent-based mickey taking. Not bad.
I award this Rand-y (ho ho!) number 4 out of 5 Disko Units
Deborah Kara Unger (Bekkie Stander)
Dexter Fletcher (Lee McCall)
David Patrick O'Hara (Allan Heyl)