Cinema Signal:

Stander
Bank Robber
by Paul L. Moorcraft



. "Stander"

In a case of truth being stranger than fiction, this film tells the story of a renegade Police Captain who took to robbing banks and becoming the prime fugitive of his country, South Africa. While the psycological causes of his crazed turn in life style may not be completely understood, the movie attempts a possible explanation.

Andre Stander (Thomas Jane) is a young, white policeman in Johannesburg who, though he enjoys a comfortable married life with exotically sexy Bekkie (Deborah Kara Unger), seems more affected by the killing and violence of the Apartheid system in the late-1970's. His abhorrence of this class system is put to the test when he takes part in Riot Patrol during a protest march. He stands, armed, with his partner Cor (Ashley Taylor) to confront several hundred protesters on the dusty streets of Tembisa.

When the march halts yards away from the police barricade, shouted exhortations become imminent physical attacks. The level of violence builds until gunfire breaks out. Stander tries not to parcipate in the ensuing carnage but, when an unarmed militant comes wildly streaking toward him, he shoots and kills the man.

The guilt he feels over it is profound (we are told). A man who has a tendency to push himself and others to the limit is now turned to defiance of the system that brought him to do something for which he feels moral repugnance. He wants desperately to make amends and civil disobedience is the only path he sees.

Stander advances to become the youngest Captain in the Johannesburg Police force, with Cor at his side as second in command. One day, he walks out of headquarters and, almost casually, robs a bank. Fleeing afterward, he drops the loot in a small black boy's lap, as a first payment for his concience. But, is he paying penance to the South African blacks for his killing or is this the action of a loony, self-appointed Dillinger figure who gets his jollies through breaking the law and then working the crime he committed as the lead investigating officer?

After increasingly bold and audacious robberies, he's caught and jailed. This puts him in contact with outlaws Allan Heyl (David O'Hara) and Lee McCall (Dexter Fletcher). When the trio escapes he leads it to a new round of cleverly plotted and boldly executed bank heists. The Stander Gang's exploits fill the headlines, with their utter disrespect for authority transforming them into the kind of folk heroes that evoke Jesse James and "Bonnie and Clyde."

While his victorious cat-and-mouse game emboldens Stander and feeds his gang's audacity, he realizes that his choices have meant the loss of his tie to Bekkie and to his father (Marius Weyers). In an act of allaying his still raging demons of guilt, he appears before the father of the man he killed, confesses, and submits to his violent wrath. Self-imposed penalty received, but are the scales of justice balanced?

Perhaps the bigger question about the movie is whether we can buy the guilt as the avenue to crime. The case history is a unique one in the annals of crime but it doesn't support the notion of social protest or the purgation of guilt. Director Bronwen Hughes and writer Bima Stagg's scenario lives in the crime spree while attempts to "understand" Stander's pathology in terms of governmental atrocities may deepen the story but this remains in the realm of fiction.

Thomas Jane ("Punisher"), adopting a workable African accent, is true to his image of a rebellious rapscallion with natural and sympathetic qualities of leadership. He has a proclivity for exposing the dark side of men while making them stand out from the crowd. A man with a brooding silent consciousness who enjoys raising hell by pushing things to their limits may be more Jane than Stander, pushing the character portrayal in that direction. Jane may not have the necessary star stature yet, but he would have made a convincing "Alexander."

Canadian Deborah Kara Unger has a more outfront role here than she did in "A Love Song For Bobby Long" and is a classy choice for Stander's love interest. This under-exposed 38-year old actress has an even greater command of the difficult accent and pulls it off convincingly. Her exotic looks and bearing are awaiting bigger roles, with splashier roll-outs. A lady to watch for.

If Hughes' intent was to condemn a social issue dramatically, "Stander" goes off with the wrong emphasis. The direction it takes, focusing on the action, the nose-thumbing at authority, and the rise of an anti-hero makes for a colorful action yarn. The uniqueness of the historical character who inspired it is icing on the straight-to-DVD entertainment cake.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Deborah Kara Unger and Thomas Jane
facing a changed destiny.


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