Movie review: ‘Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema,’ a ‘Goodfellas’ for South Africa
The story of a township boy-turned-slumlord millionaire, “Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema” is a South African crime epic with plenty of vigor, violence and vengeance, as one might expect from a rags-to-riches tale cut from the same cloth as “City of God,” “Goodfellas” and “Scarface.” But writer-director Ralph Ziman deserves props for his skewed take on private enterprise post-apartheid, when a bright, struggling man like Lucky Kunene (played by Jafta Mamabolo as a teen, Rapulana Seiphemo as an adult) can learn how to go from hijacking cars in Soweto to hijacking Johannesburg tenements from negligent white landowners.
It’s a fresh idea, with a time-and-place-specific pungency — whether it’s the gritty location photography by Nicolas Hofmeyer, or an Afrikaner cop’s lament that too many years of white-authority abuse have hamstrung legitimate efforts to reduce crime — but the whole effort is undermined by an abundance of mob-movie cliches. And Ziman’s such a leadfoot with the storytelling pedal that such things as character motivation, reflectiveness and basic logic get lost in the crackerjack pacing. It’s a shame because some of his core cast — Seiphemo, Jeffrey Sekele as an underworld mentor, Ronnie Nyakale as Lucky’s childhood friend — have the kind of lived-in, expressive faces worth savoring amid the chases, threats and bloodshed.
“Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema.” MPAA rating: R for violence, language, drug use and some sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes. Playing at Laemmle Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica; Sunset 5, West Hollywood; and Playhouse 7, Pasadena
Only good movies
Get the Indie Focus newsletter, Mark Olsen's weekly guide to the world of cinema.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.