Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner08/07/2010

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 118 mins

Impressively directed, superbly written and featuring a terrific central performance from Rapulana Seiphemo, this is a gripping, genuinely exciting thriller with echoes of City of God.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Ralph Ziman, Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema is set in South Africa and stars Jafta Mamabolo as impoverished Soweto teenager Lucky Kunene, who begins a life of crime in 1994 with his best friend, Zakes (Motlatsi Mahloko), under the auspices of guerilla-fighter-turned-career-criminal Nazareth (Jeffrey Zekele). However, when a planned robbery goes horribly wrong, Lucky and Zakes move to Johannesburg, where they hope to set up a legitimate business.

Ten years later, Lucky and Zakes (now played by Rapulana Seiphemo and Ronnie Nyakale) hit a setback when their taxi business is closed down by a rival organisation but Lucky's fortunes quickly change when he hits upon a semi-legitimate scheme to effectively wrest properties away from white slum landlords. As news of his ostensible charity work spreads, Lucky becomes a Robin Hood-style figure known as “the Hoodlum of Hillbrow” but his actions bring him into conflict with both a powerful cop (Robert Hobbs as Blakkie Swart) and a Nigerian gangster (Malusi Skenjana as Tony Ngu).

The Good
Rapulana Seiphemo is terrific as Lucky, delivering a powerfully charismatic performance that ensures that we root for him to succeed, even if we don't entirely approve of his methods. Mamabolo and Mahloko are equally charming as Lucky and Zakes in the first half of the film and there's strong support from Hobbs, Zekele and Shelley Meskin as Leah Friedland, a beautiful, affluent Jewish woman who becomes Lucky's girlfriend after he rescues her brother from some of Ngu's drug dealers.

The script is excellent and there are hints of both City of God and Goodfellas in Lucky's rags-to-criminal-riches story (supposedly inspired by true events). The story also serves as a not-too-subtle comment on South Africa's political situation, though it's careful to show different sides, via the device of a journalist interviewing various characters surrounding Lucky (including Swart).

The Great
Ziman orchestrates some superbly thrilling shoot-outs and chase scenes and the film also includes some genuinely funny moments, such as Zakes and Lucky enthusiastically performing their first car-jacking before realising that neither of them can drive.

Worth seeing?
Impressively directed, superbly written and featuring terrific performances, Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema is a thoroughly gripping, high-energy thriller that marks writer-director Ziman out as a talent to watch. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 23/10/2017 00:00

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