Thursday, 2 May 2013

THE DEVIL'S LAIR - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICK

The Devil's Lair (2013) ****
Dir. Riaan Hendricks

Review By Greg Klymkiw

This is one grim, gritty and nerve-wracking gangster picture, but like the best of them, it's got heart.

The picture's emotional punch emanates from its central character, Braaim, a lean, lanky, almost classically handsome late-forty-to-fifty-something with a whole lot of salt and a dash or two of pepper in his hair. Though he prefers loose shirts and sweats, his wife, a caring, understanding and delightfully full-figured gal (and Mom to his three kids) tries to make sure he's spruced up suitably for important engagements. Their relationship is loving - she never nags, but always throws in gentle reminders and he clearly strives to be a devoted family man, though ultimately, his work has a habit of getting in the way.

He's a wise elder member and boss of NTK (Nice To Kill), a gang specializing in the sale of narcotics. Most gangstas die at half his age, but Braain's got staying power, not to mention plenty of the requisite hard-ass meanness and moxie to handle anything, including s vicious turf war that's being waged against his territory.

Though he wants to leave the neighbourhood and the "business" to make a better life for his family, he's bound by the code of his gang and can't break free until the right people have been whacked. (Makes perfect sense to me.) He wants NTK to be strong and secure without him and ultimately, for peace between gangs to be restored and thus making his dreams of halcyon days come true.

Braaim's wife is alternately resigned to the choice she made in knowingly marrying a thug (albeit a handsome and charming one), but she stills harbours a need for him to at least slightly curtail his activities so he can spend more time with his family. It's a pipe dream she holds onto - dangling and extending an impending divorce over his head - hoping this will change his ways.

This, in spite of many displays of his tenderness, just doesn't seem to be in the cards.

Ultimately, our hero is a been-there-done-that kind of guy. His eyes have seen everything, his spirit has been infused with hatred (when necessary) and he's done what he's had to do to provide leadership and maintain the gang. He has even served a (surprisingly light) seven-year sentence in prison for murder. He's justifiably concerned that he can't ever murder again for fear of having the book thrown at him.

Most of all, Braain hopes his children will never have to follow in his footsteps. He acknowledges that he knows what he knows from growing up in a family where his own father packaged drugs, planned killings and sported a wide variety of guns. He consumed the sins of his father, but desperately hopes this will not be the fate of his own children.

These are not the mean streets of way uptown in NYC or in South Central L.A. Braain and his family live in the flats of Cape Town - a community created by the Apartheid government in the 50s to separate living space between white and black. Though people of colour now have freedom, the chasm between rich and poor is wider than before and most Cape Town Blacks live in the flats.

As well, this gangster picture is not a drama. You might have guessed that one already since it's playing at Hot Docs, but it's so expertly shot and edited (by its clearly gifted director Hendricks), with the right attention paid to narrative detail and character, that the movie feels like Mean Streets on the Cape Town Flats.

There are moments that are simply unforgettable - gunshots echoing in the streets, the gang sucking back crystal meth and planning murder, long talks into the night about shattered dreams, a child playing with a dead cat's corpse in the street, other children playing with toy guns - striking poses of bravado in honour of their fathers and among many other indelible moments, contrasting sequences between Braain and his baby girl where he's like any tender Dad doting on his little one and others where he holds her in his arms as he conducts "business".

These are real people, real locations and real events. There's a touch of Lionel Rogosin to the proceedings, but Hendricks goes way beyond staging improvised scenes based on tales crafted during the shoot itself which is why you're always on the edge of your seat. He's a filmmaker with cinema hard-wired into his genetic code and he makes it seems so easy for us to alternately cringe and weep.

And yet, it was clearly anything but easy to make.

This is a movie I shall not soon forget. Neither will you.

"The Devil's Lair" is playing at Hot Docs 2013. For tickets and showtimes, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.