Set in the Cape ganglands, this coming-of-age crime thriller tells the story of a young chess prodigy who must defy the odds and stay one move ahead of the gangs—in a game where winning or losing can mean the difference between life and death. The film plays out aspects of the war fought and reported daily on the streets of the Cape Flats, home to the Number Gang factions in the ghetto dune area outside Cape Town.
What we thought:
Ian Gabriel’s latest offering, Four Corners, is a hard look at the harsh realities adolescents face growing up on the Cape Flats. There has been lots of buzz surrounding this movie. It was submitted as South Africa's official 2014 foreign-language entry for the Academy Awards and it has also been nominated for the Design Indaba's MBOISA (Most Beautiful Object in South Africa) Award.
Set in the Cape Flats most of the story takes place in some of the most notorious townships. Derelict buildings, shanty like dwellings and un-kept flats are the surroundings teenagers within these communities grow up in. This ugliness is often offset by beautiful sweeping shots of Table Mountain; a reflection of what one could consider the ‘double life’ of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Most of the filming was done in the dark, and with the dreary shots it just seemed like the sun never shined in the community.
It is an intricate plot with four stories running concurrently and as the story develops you soon learn they are interconnected. It starts out in the present and we are taken back to the events that lead up to the present. The twists keep you at the edge of your seat and you can never really guess where it is going.
Ricardo played by newbie, Jezzriel Skei is a chess prodigy. Surrounded by gangsterism he has to survive the odds. He doesn’t want to go down the same road as the other kids in his community but he gets sucked into the gang life. This is a struggle for him as he is constantly pulled into two directions. He has a friendship with local police captain Tito Hanekom (Abduragman Adams) who is trying to track down a psychotic serial killer who sees himself as a saviour.
Ricardo gets recruited by Gasant (Irshaad Ally), a member of the 26 number gang. He recruits young boys to do his dirty work and in return he gives them money and in a sense offers them a kinship. Gasant as a character is beyond redemption, ruled by money and drugs and troubled by the abduction of his younger brother by the serial killer which he believes is the work of rival number gang, 28.
Recently released from prison, 28 general Farakhan (Brendon Daniels) becomes the perfect scapegoat for Gasant. Farakhan vows to avenge his father’s death, to be done with the gang life and to go in search of his son. He takes revenge on the 26-er living in his father’s house and then in a dramatic scene burns off his gang tattoo with an iron.
Rounding up the plots is the story of a young expatriate doctor Laila (Lindiwe Matshikiza) who has come back to bury her father, an ex-prison warden who was a well respected member of the community. While her father was seen as a ‘dad’ for many of the prisoners his own relationship with his daughter was non-existent. She reconnects with Farakhan, an old childhood friend.
The cast are engaging in their character portrayals. The driving forces of this movie are Skei and Daniels. Skei’s portrayals of the external and internal fights are done with a maturity way beyond his age. Daniel’s gives a moving portrayal of a redemptive character who is trying to create a better life for himself and his son, and his fierce intent for his son to not relive his life choices.
One of the saddest revelations for me in this film is that Farakhan met his own father for the first time in prison. While it might seem farfetched for some of us, this is a reality for many kids who never even meet their fathers. It is this search for kinship that drives kids in communities to join gangs.
This is a coming of age film about choices, about ties and cycles that must be broken, about communities at war, about redemption and family and fatherhood. This film is not for the fainthearted and it is not a heart-warming tale, it is a very real portrayal of the lives lived in gang ridden communities behind the news headlines.
This South African production can stand proudly next to international gang thriller, City of God.