'Stander' **** 051805
DVD Review (2004)

The Work = ****
One of the best movies of last year that went all but unnoticed was 'Stander'. It's a stylized crime drama, based on a true story, that takes place in South Africa in the 1970's. Directed with skill by Bronwen Hughes (who's past filmography gave no hint that she would be capable of something like this,) 'Stander' sports a knockout cast, lead by Thomas Jane as Andre Stander, Deborah Kara Unger as his wife Bekkie, David O'Hara (who you might remember as the crazy Irishman from Braveheart,) and Dexter Fletcher. If you know nothing about the film and are interested in it, I say stop reading right now and check out this film. If you have seen the movie's trailer I will reveal nothing that is not already shown in it.

Essentially 'Stander' is based on the true story of the youngest captain in the South African police force who began robbing banks. He was so good and so arrogant that he would investigate many of his own robberies. Was he always thinking about a life of crime or did something cause him to change? I suppose no one will actually know for certain. For its part, the movie makes the argument that he had breakdown. Stander was a police captain in a time and place when it was not easy to be one, particularly if you did not share all of the government's views.

Apartheid was raging in South Africa and the almost entirely white police force often used brutal tactics to stop protests (Including the use of live ammo.) Andre became disillusioned with the racism and brutality. The film implies he snaps. He starts out slowly and then gains momentum robbing more and more sometimes doing multiple robberies in the same day. Hughes shoots the whole thing with a stylized color pallet reminiscent of Soddenberg's Traffic. What is surprising is how engaging the film is. A large part of that credit goes to Hughes who keeps the pace snappy and uses a pumping soundtrack to move the action along.

Jane as Andre is excellent. It is a terrible shame that he did not get more recognition because he is very good here. Jane is one of those actors that often pops up in films (most recently in the punisher,) that I don't necessarily enjoy. The funny thing is I always think he comes off well, usually rising above the material he is surrounded by. The rest of the cast is great too. They are a bunch of actors that are often relegated to supporting roles and/ or sometimes (like Jane) not so hot films that deserve a lot better. Unger especially is underrated.

If there is a weakness to the film it is in the ending. I won't give it away but I will say that it is just kind of blah. I think it comes from the problem of the film being a biopic of a man that few knew well. Andre became a sort of Robin Hood figure in his day but the truth is he kept what he took. His wife probably new him best but she committed suicide in the mid 90s. What's left is a film ending that I suspect Hughes didn't know exactly what she wanted it to say with.

DVD = ****

The Look
'Stander' gets a great transfer. The film was shot with distorted, often grainy color stocks that the DVD shows off well. The Film is presented in the anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

The Sound
I liked the soundtrack and 'Stander' has a pretty good audio mix. I am not the best just judge of these things but it sounded good to me. Stander gets a 5.1 Dolby digital mix as well as a Dolby 2.0 track. Subtitles in English and Spanish are also available.

The Bonus
The film’s director Bronwen Hughes contributes a great commentary track. She talks about many aspects of the films production and has a lot of interesting things to say. Her discussion about the difficulties of directing a sex scene is a hoot. There is a featurette from I believe the Sundance channel called “Anatomy of a Scene” that is a breakdown of one sequence from the movie. A bit on the promotional side it does manage to squeeze in some tidbits on the production as a whole. There are also some deleted scenes; present with no commentary.

All together = ****
'Stander' is a great film, it is a shame it did not get a wider release. Yes, it does have a weak ending but I was able to look past that. The performances and direction made this film and are the reason to check it out. Frankly, considering the nature of the subject matter I'm surprised this was not made into a movie sooner. Recommended.


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