Damaged psychologically beyond repair by the killing he witnesses whilst serving as a police officer in South Africa, Andres Stander defies the system he once enforced and masterminds a series of daring bank raids, befriending outlaws as his crime spree threatens to envelope the nation. The Stander Gang is formed and the band of brothers soon passes into urban legend and become folk heroes. To the police and South African government, Andres Stander is a stain on the landscape. The battle lines have been drawn. It all depends on who blinks first.

Welcome to the world of dubious haircuts, accents that are never 100 per cent convincing and gangsters who suddenly develop a conscience. The slow, painful destruction of Stander as a person - beautifully sketched through his constant hunger to visit women he adores - proves captivating both in terms of dialogue and visuals. The tortured soul breaks away from his decency, piece by piece, shedding the skin of a person and finally inhabiting the body of a felon.

But for the almost obsessive desire to make a Western, rather than an in depth character study, the film would have been a showcase for a number of exceptional talents, including Thomas Jane in the lead role, as a man on the run from more than the authorities. As it is, the inclusion of the outlaws in the gang detracts from Stander's moral downfall and makes the whole thing look like a remake of Robin Hood. The script stops being based on a true story the moment the director decides to sneak an action movie in under its covers. The film shares a characteristic with The Lord Of The Rings in that just when you think it's all over, there's at least another hour to go.

Critics have alleged that it forms part of a wider political critique. Apartheid is dead. South Africa has different problems these days and Stander - if, indeed, it does manage to make a political comment - simply walks over well-trodden ground. Plus, how is one supposed to concentrate on a gruelling political swipe at the establishment and their delusions of grandeur when one is distracted by handlebar moustaches and flared trousers?

The glue dries and flakes halfway through the movie when the cops turn up with their flashing lights, after which The Stander Gang makes a number of daring jailbreaks and the local police always manage to skid to a halt outside the bank mere seconds after the dust has settled from the bad guys' getaway car.

If you like films like this, it might be better to watch something else.

Reviewed on: 05 Sep 2005
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Story of a South African police officer who became a bank robber.
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Angus Wolfe Murray **1/2

Director: Bronwen Hughes

Writer: Bima Stagg

Starring: Thomas Jane, Deborah Kara Unger, Dexter Fletcher, David O'Hara, Ashley Taylor, Marius Weyers

Year: 2003

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada/Germany/South Africa/UK


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