BY ED GONZALEZ
Be wary of any film that bookends a blistering portrait of social unrest with Skinemax-style sex scenes. The mesmerizing opening minutes of Stander liken Apartheid-era South Africa to a collage of geometric land patterns. Director Bronwen Hughes’s dramatic overheads evoke (or, more accurately, move down) the country’s social ladder: Farms give way to upper-class neighborhoods—where cars line the streets and every house has a swimming pool or tennis court (sometimes both)—which, in turn, give way to the country’s ghetto of stigmatized lives. But don’t be fooled by the promise of this socially charged intro, or the unnerving confrontation between a community of angry blacks who stare down a group of callous white cops, becauseStander isn’t so much concerned with the invisibility of a country’s native people as it is with using that very invisibility to inflate a white man’s sense of entitlement and thirst for invincibility. Tom Jane stars as the perpetually naked Andre Stander, the real-life Johannesburg police captain who would become the country’s most notorious bank robber. The killing of a young, unarmed black man seemingly propels Andre to defy the very system he’s meant to enforce, but the man barely faces himself in the mirror. Andre’s bank-robbing spree isn’t quite the wake-up call the film’s opening scenes would have you believe, and what begins as a promising anatomy of black-white relations in South Africa becomes a soulless act of hero worship. (Ostensibly because cops beat the babies out of black women who have been impregnated by white men, the audience is meant to exonerate Andre and his friends.) Hughes evokes the black experience in South Africa only to glibly toss it aside when she feels it has justified the story’s Boogie Nights-styled game of cops and robbers. Invisible for a good portion of Stander‘s running time, that very black experience is summoned once more for cheap dramatic effect when the narrative finally runs out of steam. Stander is never boring exactly, and Hughes’s direction is effectively antsy (especially when one considers her previous credits: Forces of Nature and Harriet the Spy), but she operates under the unfortunate notion that blacks are very much the white man’s burden.