"Stander" opens with an aerial shot of Johannesburg, South Africa, its skyline interchangeable with that of many major U.S. cities — until the shot abruptly gives way to the shanty rooftops of black townships, as potent an image of the severe inequities of apartheid as imaginable. With crisp swiftness and economy, director Bronwen Hughes takes us into the soon-to-crumble life of Andre Stander (Thomas Jane), the Johannesburg police force's youngest captain of detectives.
Smart, handsome and personable, Stander, the son of a retired army general (Marius Weyers, of the classic comedy "The Gods Must Be Crazy"), has an assured future and a passionate marriage — Deborah Kara Unger plays his wife.
Or would have if he did not have a conscience and the time was not 1976, when Stander was called upon to back up a riot squad in quelling a student uprising in the black township of Tembisa. Horrified by the police brutality he witnessed — and got swept up in — he would later remark that he was left "in a state of permanent shock and my nerves were shot." Yes, "Stander" is based on a true story.
Apparently, his nerves were so shot — and his guilt so great — that he snapped, unexpectedly becoming a modern-day Butch Cassidy or Jesse James who with a couple of cohorts embarked upon a bank robbing spree that made them folk heroes and brought humiliation to the South African government.
"Stander" is an exciting, hard-driving, fast-moving gangster picture and a sharp commentary on apartheid. The versatile Jane makes Stander a likable man with a reckless streak and a belief that the government is even more criminal than he. His sidekicks are also classic good-bad guys: Lee McCall (Dexter Fletcher), whose newly acquired girlfriend (Ashley Taylor) is regarded by Stander as a risk, and Allan Heyl (David Patrick O'Hara), a rugged intellectual with a bitter personal regard for apartheid.
As perceptive as it is vigorous, "Stander" crackles with forceful portrayals. Funny, violent, impassioned and inescapably poignant, "Stander" in no way sanctions Stander's turning to a life of crime yet has the courage to see him as a victim of apartheid himself.
MPAA rating: R for violence, some sexuality and nudity
Times guidelines: The violence is standard and not excessive for the gangster genre. The sexuality is quite steamy.
Thomas Jane...Andre Stander
Dexter Fletcher...Lee McCall
David Patrick O'Hara...Allan Heyl
Deborah Kara Unger ...Bekkie Stander
Marius Weyers...Gen. Stander
Ashley Taylor...Cor Van Deventer
A Newmarket Films release of a Peter & Susan Hoffman presentation of a Seven Arts/Grosvenor Park/The Imaginarium co-production in association with the Industrial Development Corp. of South Africa. Director Bronwen Hughes. Producers Julia Verdin, Martin F. Katz, Chris Roland. Executive producers David E. Allen, Steven Markoff, Izidore Codron, Frank Hübner, Jan Fantl. Screenplay Bima Stagg. Cinematographer Jess Hall. Editor Robert Ivison. Music The Free Association Costumes Darion Hing. Visual consultant (production designer) Lester Cohen. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.Exclusively at the ArcLight, Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, (323) 464-4226; and The Grove Stadium 14, Third Street and The Grove Drive, (323) 692-0829.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun