out of Five
Running time: 111
Impressively directed and featuring a stunning central performance by Tom Jane, this is a gripping drama from start to finish. One of the best films of the year.
Director Bronwen Hughes’ previous two films were the appalling Bullock/Affleck romcom Forces of Nature and the below-par kid’s adaptation Harriet the Spy. With that in mind, she’s an odd choice of director for the gritty true story of police captain turned bank robber Andre Stander. Similarly, Tom Jane’s previous roles in films such as The Punisher or Deep Blue Sea haven’t exactly marked him out as an actor to watch.
However, the combination of Jane and Hughes proves unexpectedly fruitful and Stander is quite possibly one of the best films of the year.
The film is set in Johannesburg in 1976. Tom Jane stars as Andre Stander, a captain on the Johannesburg police force. Already disillusioned by Apartheid, he reaches breaking point when he witnesses some horrific police action during a peaceful anti-Apartheid rally.
Initially intending to prove that the system is so corrupt that a white man can get away with anything, Stander takes to robbing banks, sometimes robbing them on his lunch hour and then sauntering back in as a detective to “investigate”.
Things get more complicated after Stander is caught, sent to prison, breaks out and forms a gang with fellow escapees McCall and Heyl (Dexter Fletcher and David O’Hara), particularly after McCall gets a new girlfriend (Ashley Taylor) who seems less than trustworthy.
Needless to say, none of this goes down to well with Stander’s long-suffering wife (Deborah Kara Unger), to say nothing of his high-ranking father (Marius Weyers), with whom Stander attempts a belated reconciliation by telephone in one of the film’s most moving scenes.
Jane’s performance is nothing short of revelatory. Stander was a notorious criminal but he was also something of a folk hero and Jane perfectly captures Stander’s charisma, from his sense of humour (most evident in a scene where he re-robs a bank after the manager has boasted of outwitting him) to his earthy 1970s sex appeal, sideburns and all.
There’s also strong support from the rest of the cast, but it’s Jane’s performance that will stay with you after the film – if there were any justice he’d get an Oscar.
Hughes orchestrates the film brilliantly, maintaining an energetic pace and giving the film an authentic 1970s feel, aided considerably by both the costume department and the soundtrack. The riot sequence in particular is extremely well handled and the film never feels like it’s preaching to the audience.
In short, Stander is a hugely entertaining drama with a terrific, hopefully star-making performance from Tom Jane. Frankly, the film is so good you’ll want to go out and rob a bank afterwards. Highly recommended.