Movie review – Script robs local heist flick of its currency

2012-01-13 11:17

Film: 31 Million Reasons (Nu Metro)
Director: John Barker
Featuring: Jack Devnarain, Rahul Brijnath, Meren Reddy, Neville Pillay, Trevor Gumbi, Afzal Khan
Rating: 5/10

Director John Barker has taken a true South African crime story and turned it into a heist film.

The result looks the part, but the plot can’t keep up. Set in Durban, Barker manages to get a new perspective on this favoured seaside town. In the production notes he talks about capturing a different view of the city and in this, at least, he succeeds.

“I was less interested in the postcard image of Durban but more in the third world, East meets West; in the southern hemisphere kind of mix.

“This dynamic culture clash is a great visual backdrop. However, the key visual element of the film is the Indian influence.

“The South African Indian community is fascinating as it has its own set of social rules and traditions. It has a particular sense of humour and its own guidelines for right and wrong. This strong culture within an African culture is a wonderful palette for a filmmaker to draw inspiration.”

It’s a shame then that, though Barker’s visual vision is realised, the script isn’t slick enough to complement it.

As with so many South African films the script needed to be refined in parts and rewritten in others.

The real theft took place in Durban about a decade ago and was perpetrated by bent cops and a motley collection of small-time crooks and drunks. Little surprise then that the lot of them ended up either dead or banged up.

One problem is that even though the protagonist, Ronnie Gopal, is played by handsome Jack Devnarain of Isidingo fame, it’s hard to like the guy. Devnarain began his working life as a policeman so he was able to make his character more believable. Still, he’s a rather unpleasant character, but his partner is a real piece of work. Jugs (Rahul Brijnath) is not only having it off with Ronnie’s wife, but he’s more than willing to pull the trigger at any provocation.

These two shady guys find out about an easy mark from an alcohol-addled gambler and they decide to go
for it and steal a million rand.

It turns out to be much, much more moolah, which turns a bunch of greedy crooks into a bunch of murderously greedy crooks.

Ronnie and Jugs add another pair of fiddlers to their crew, including an illegal immigrant looking for a way back to New Delhi and a shopkeeper indebted to his brother-in-law. The motivation for selecting these guys isn’t really clear and including the drunk is just plain crazy.

The real problem though is that the script gets really messy while the heist is going down.

If you consider heist films such as Inside Man or Ocean’s Eleven, there’s always a clear explanation – for the benefit of the audience – of how the action’s going to go down so that everyone knows who is doing what.

That doesn’t happen here so it just looks like scrambled chaos as the thieves bumble around in the dark.

All in all, 31 Million Reasons doesn’t live up to the promise it makes of being a slick, sexy South African heist movie. Alas, in a global market the competition is tougher and filmmakers, like everyone else, have to compete.

31 Million Reasons unfortunately doesn’t quite make the grade.

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