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Zulu

Dir: Jerome Salle. France. 2013. 110mins

Cannes’ closing night attraction may pretend to be a gripping crime story in a distinct socio-racial context, but sadly enough, it fails to deliver on both accounts. A messy script builds up the investigation of a brutal Cape Town murder all the way into a major plot to annihilate the country’s black population, no more and no less, but the racial tensions in today’s South Africa, duly represented and underlined, offer no new insights into the issue.

Since Whitaker and Bloom apparently didn’t bring along more than one expression for the occasion, it is hard to believe they could really get anyone involved into the fate of their characters.

Casting of Forest Whitaker and Orlando Bloom (who offer up wooden performances) in the leads obviously provide some kind of glamour to the project on paper, but none of it is successfully transferred to the screen.

Due to the star names the film may get some theatrical exposure, its best bet still remains the small screen. More the pity, because for a while it looks as if Jerome Salle’s film could go places, basically as a genre piece - effective for what it is if it had only accepted its limitations.

A black police captain, Ali (Whitaker) and a white police detective, Brian (Bloom) are looking trying to track the person who beat a white girl to death in a public park. Between them, they are to represent good, but demon-ridden, South Africans.

Ali’s father was burned alive by white supremacists and he had suffered serious physical damage inflicted at the hands of the white police, but he is willing to forgive, if not forget.

Meanwhile Brian’s father was a court prosecutor for the apartheid regime, and burdened by guilt his son has chosen to use his mother’s family name and has turned himself since into the typical portrait of the hard headed cop who drinks too much, sleeps with too many women, helps himself to too many drugs, but his fists are of iron, his gun never misses and his heart is made of gold. Naturally, his wife has left him and his son rejects him, but he is still a darling and every woman in sight would die to get into his pants.

The vagaries of their adventures would be to disclose the secrets of a plot that gets to be more schematic, bloodier and more senseless by the minute. Briefly, the murder indicates the presence of a new and deadly drug whose identity is not yet established, the investigation leads to a beach ruled by black thugs armed to their teeth. These thugs are all in the pay of white bosses, and as bullets fly, victims pile up and ultimately, the conclusion is that the blacks are used by the whites to kill blacks and the responsibility rest ultimately overseas, in the decadent West.

Since the manipulation of situations and characters as well as the inordinate use of standard clichés becomes evident pretty soon, the killings, maimings, shootouts and chases are to be taken as routine procedure and since Whitaker and Bloom apparently didn’t bring along more than one expression for the occasion, it is hard to believe they could really get anyone involved into the fate of their characters. Certainly not when these characters can be shot at close range and bleed profusely or are beaten within an inch of their life, and then get up and jump back into action.

Production companies: Eskwad, Pathe, Lobster Tree, M6 Films

International Sales: Pathe Distribution, www.pathefilms.com

Producers: Richard Grandpierre

Executive Producer: Frederic Doniguian

Screenplay: Julien Rappeneau, Jerome Salle, adapted from the novel by Caryl Ferey

Cinematography: Denis Rouden

Editor: Stan Collet

Production designer: Laurent Ott

Music: Alexandre Desplat

Main cast: Orlando Bloom, Forest Whitaker, Conrad Kemp, Inge Beckmann, Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots, Regardt van der Bergh, Randall Maijet, Joelle Kayembe

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