'Kings' is an unexpected sophomore outing from 'Mustang' director Deniz Gamze Erguven

“Kings” takes place against the ambitious backdrop of the 1992 Los Angeles riots and opens with a dramatization of the 1991 shooting of Latasha Harlins, the 15-year-old African American girl killed by a Korean convenience store owner that set the city on edge.

In a warm, graceful performance, Halle Berry plays Millie, a single woman raising foster children, tending to them all as if they were her own. There are squabbles over noise and nuisances with her neighbor Obie (Daniel Craig), a British writer who is one of the rare white faces in their South Central neighborhood.

As events seem to inevitability hurtle toward violence, the riots erupt in a surreal haze. Millie and Obie go out into the chaos in hopes of bringing the children safely back home.

The film has taken about 11 years to get made. The Turkish-born, Paris-based writer-director Deniz Gamze Ergüven spent time in South Central neighborhoods, with the LAPD and with emergency services workers as well as doing extensive research in an attempt to create a broad view of the events, a portrait at once sweeping and specific of the tremors that led up to the seismic hit of the riots. Some of the film’s most fantastical elements — the manager of a fast-food restaurant bargaining with rioters, police handcuffing people to streetlights — are stories she was told as urban folktales.

The movie has its world premiere as part of the Toronto International Film Festival on Wednesday night, with distributor the Orchard planning to release the film in the spring. 

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