We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 6 Sep 6:25PM
Taking its cue from classic gangster epics, Jerusalema charts the rise of Lucky, South Africa's answer to Tony Montana - who graduates from humble hoodlum beginnings to become an infamous crime lord
Cliches persist for a reason. Though whether it's because there's a grain of truth lurking in them, or because of sheer laziness is sometimes hard to call. In the case of Jerusalema, 'inspired by real events' (as its opening titles assure us), it seems to be a bit of both. The rise of Lucky Kunene (Rapulana Seiphemo), a promising boy from the wrong side of the tracks, driven from 'stealing peanuts for peanuts' in his Soweto neighbourhood to the notorious status of a millionaire Jo'Burg slum lord, is a story arc that rings a fair few bells. Taking the likes of Goodfellas and Scarface as its models, this is a film that doesn't so much wear its influences on its sleeve as rub them in your face.
From the opening voiceover, nay opening words - "I have two heroes: Karl Marx and Al Capone" - there's a niggling sense we're in gangsters-by-numbers territory. More stodgily delivered rhetoric and dubious homilies follow ("I decided to attend the university of life", "South Africa was mothered by gold, fathered by money"), and Lucky's nemesis is a sinister cop who actually utters the words "your days are numbered" without a smidge of irony.
Does it all play out like a sub-par episode of Miami Vice? Well, sort of. But there are moments of humour amid the over-egged melodrama, including a flashback to Lucky's first attempted hijack - amusingly scuppered by the realisation that neither he nor his partner in crime can drive.
It's a shame, really, because lurking in the cracks and darker corners of Lucky's predictable trajectory is a compelling, and troubling, portrait of post-Apartheid South Africa - in which it comes to make sense for an enterprising young guy like him to seize empty or ill-maintained property from crooked landlords to make a fast buck, and where police frustration at legal loopholes enabling such behaviour contributes to some seriously bent law enforcement. Though unlike Tsotsi, which addressed similar issues with a brutal vitality, or 2008's Gomorrah - which so smartly turned genre cliches on their head - Jerusalema feels turgid and mired by its own derivativeness.
Like its anti-hero, Jerusalema just about manages to keep '"on the right side of wrong" - though it's hard not to feel such complex, dramatically rich subject matter merits a less prosaic treatment.
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