December 10, 2004

Stander [Reviewed by Jeremiah Lewis]

(NOTE: The first item from American Digest's new and vastly improved film critic, Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe. He will call them as he sees them when he sees them. Lewis can be reached directly at )
Stander (2003) Rated R, 111 minutes 3.5 stars out of 5

Andre Stander was a man on the edge, disgusted with the political and racial practices of his time and country and violently aware that the policies under which he served (and which he subsequently enforced) were wrong. His response is one of the more interesting stories to come out of the South African 'apartheid' era, a time notable for its share of lawbreakers, violence, and humanity at its most ignoble.

Andre Stander, a fine police captain whose work in the all-white force was recognized as responsive and exemplary, put his career away and became the most wanted man in South Africa. He was a kind of Robin Hood anti-hero to the working class, who saw his incredible bank robbing spree as a fist in the face of a government and society that had long abandoned any semblance of equity and human rights.

Thomas Jane is remarkable as the enigmatic Stander. His attitude throughout the film is as vigilante and happy-go-lucky as it is reactive. His actions defy categorization, precisely because the reasons behind them are unprecedented.

As a white man in a white man's world, Stander seems alone in his sympathy to the black cause. After shooting an unarmed black man in a riot, Stander's comfortable world is shattered, and he demands to be taken off the riot line. Seeing the attention paid to the fermenting race riots, Stander remarks to himself, "A white man could do anything right now and get away with it."

With that, his career as a police officer becomes second to his new occupation as bank robber. His scheme rides easily upon its spontaneity and simplicity. During his lunch hours, he hits banks whilst in disguise, then returns to investigate the very crimes he committed. During his tenure on the police force, Stander commits twenty-six robberies, often pulling multiple jobs in the same hour.

He is caught by his friend and fellow police captain Deventer (Ashley Taylor), who acknowledges that Stander was simply "better than [him]," and is sent to prison. He subsequently breaks out along with two friends, Allan Heyl (David O'Hara) and Lee McCall (Dexter Fletcher), and continues to make headlines as the Stander Gang, even going so far as to rob the same bank twice.

While the police attempt to lose their reputation as hapless brutes, Stander himself never seems to exhibit a lack of self-control. His planning and coolness as a bank robber and gang leader comes across well in Jane's performance, though it is disappointing to see Stander portrayed as a man, whose crimes rival history's greatest bank robbers' deeds, without much fault.

Though his desire to be with his wife is palpable, one feels less inclined to grant Stander much sympathy, despite his anti-hero status. Debra Kara Unger, who plays Bekkie Stander, is cold and lifeless. Much more interesting is Stander's aging father (Marius Weyers), who is forced to give up communication with his son to avoid becoming an accomplice in his crimes. His distress at knowing that he can never see his son again is portrayed with honesty and simplicity.

Throughout the film, we are presented with with a man whose growing exploits in crime led to his estrangement from all he held dear; a man who was torn between his civic morality and his desire to uphold human rights; a man who displayed a cunning mind, yet used it to the detriment of his own happiness.

Stander is a drama with deliberate pacing and an intelligent eye for visual idiom. Finally though it is as unhappy and unsatisfying as Andre Stander's own end. Only questions remain for the audience which has rooted for some good to come out of Stander's spree. In the end, only sadness resulted, and one wonders what it was all for.

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Posted by Vanderleun at December 10, 2004 1:40 PM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

That's a both a fair and an interesting summation of a film more people should see.

After all, what's "doing the right thing " mean in a society where everything is wrong?

Posted by: Stanton Rand at December 10, 2004 6:01 PM

I agree that there was a lot that was deeply wrong with South Africa under the white overlords, but I have to say that these days it doesn't look like they got nirvana in exchange. More like a different circle of hell.

Posted by: calliope at December 10, 2004 6:04 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated to combat spam and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

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