To individuals of a certain age, when you mention that there’s a
sort of biographical film called STANDER, they might think the subject
is the gravelly-voiced character actor Lionel Stander, who is perhaps best
remembered as the major-domo to the titular married detectives in the
TV series “HART TO HART.” Of course, given his tussles with the Blacklist,
he might make an intriguing subject for a film, but this STANDER is about
a South African police captain who chucked it all in favor of a life of crime.
It’s one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tales that make for good
By the mid-1970s, André Stander (Thomas Jane) was a man on the
rise in the South African police force. The youngest captain at the time,
Stander began to be disillusioned with the policies of apartheid. In a
bravura set piece, director Bronwen Hughes shows the growing tensions
by recreating the 1976 Tembisa riots. As the hoards of chanting Blacks
approach the police forces, the cops respond by firing tear gas. The rioters
volley the canisters back, and the police open fire – not with the usual
rubber bullets, but with live ammunition. Stander is seen shooting an
unarmed rioter dead and that image comes to haunt him. He asks
to be relieved of riot duty, threatening his rise within the ranks.
One afternoon when he realizes that all the police are outside of
the city on riot duty, he decided to test a theory as a lark. He dons a
skimpy disguise, enters a Johannesburg bank, and robs it, giving his
ill-gained loot to a poor Black. When he returns as the leading
investigator, the flustered teller informs the policeman that the robber
looked like him. Indeed, a Stander look-alike is arrested but the man's
alibi held up.
Emboldened, Stander carries out a few more robberies. His
unsuspecting wife Bekkie (an underused Deborah Kara Unger) doesn’t
really question where her husband is getting expensive things like a
new watch. But that watch betrays him, and he’s eventually caught,
arrested and sentenced to jail.
While in prison, he is befriended by two inmates, Lee (Dexter
Fletcher) and Alan (David Patrick O’Hara). Eventually, Lee and Stander
manage to escape. They go back and break Alan out and the trio begins
a life of crime. Known as the “Stander Gang,” they rob banks at will
and practically beg to be caught by driving flashy cars and wearing
gaudy outfits. With each burglary, they become bolder, even returning
to the scene of one bank robbery after the manager goes on the
radio and boasts of a hidden safe. Their spree eventually has to end,
and Stander manages to escape to the United States where he is at
loose ends, until he makes one final decision.
Hughes starts the film off with a bang with Stander’s remarriage
to Bekkie and then with the riots. Once the movie shifts to the jail
and the aftermath, though, it’s as though the political context of the
film never occurred and STANDER settles into a caper movie that
eventually loses steam and peters off to its somewhat inevitable
conclusion. Thomas Jane offers his best work yet as the charismatic
leader of the gang (even if a few of the disguises push credibility),
but even he gets buried by the shift in tone.
MPAA rating: R for violence, language, some sexuality
Running time: 111 mins.
|© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.