Movie review – Cold Harbour is lukewarm

2014-07-20 15:00

Despite a great cast, the new local crime flick Cold Harbour lacks tension. A shame, considering its plot brims with potential, writes Gugulethu Mhlungu

This week, South African police seized nearly five tons of illegal perlemoen in a bust in Benoni.

Believed to be destined for restaurants in Hong Kong and China, perlemoen can fetch up to R4?500/kg on the local black market, and nearly three times that in Asia, according to experts.

Illegal harvesting of perlemoen remains a lucrative and deadly business in South Africa, particularly in the Western Cape.

Perlemoen is at the centre of the plot in ColdHarbour, which was officially selected for the Durban International Film Festival.

Made by the producers of the stellar Jerusalema, it depicts the relationship between organised crime and the complicity of some law enforcement officials.

Tony Kgoroge stars as Sizwe Miya, a man who decides to clean up his act when apartheid ends.

Sizwe leaves his past, which involves gangster Specialist (excellently portrayed by the effortless Fana Mokoena) and becomes a police officer.

But when the mutilated body of a man washes up on the beach and Sizwe decides he wants to be the man to solve the case, he learns he can’t trust anyone in the police force and must instead turn to the devil he knows, Specialist.

Specialist is an interesting character who finds Sizwe’s ethics and values naive. As far as he is concerned, nothing really changed in 1994.

In one of the scenes with Sizwe, Specialist says that people love gangsters because they are not afraid to take what they want, and that gangsters don’t have to beg “dingamla” (white people) for recognition.

He says to Sizwe: “If I’m honest, in the silence of the night, I feel you betrayed me?...?You switched sides.”

Set in contemporary Cape Town, ColdHarbour is a gangster film, and I have to ask whether we really need another one of these.

Luckily, it does not go the route of romanticising gangsters by showing them with flashy clothes or participating in high-speed car chases, epic gun fights and turf wars.

Most of the film manages to put across the manner in which people like Specialist are often able to run their illegal operations with the knowledge and complicity of law enforcement officials and local communities.

Despite that, I wish the directors had done more.

The film lacks suspense, which is a pity given the complicated relationship between organised crime and the police.

It would fail the Bechdel test dismally – there are only two female characters in the movie, and Zolani Mahola’s character Camilla is the most underdeveloped.

She plays the mother of Sizwe’s child and barely has any screen time.

The other woman in the film is Nan Yu, who plays Mei, the Triad fixer, and what we assume is meant to be Sizwe’s femme fatale.

Cold Harbour just feels as if it never builds up to anything – there is no sense of surprise.

It’s such a pity, considering it has great actors, a plot with potential and a pretty decent script. As such, the film undoes itself and ends rather hastily.

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