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Review: Gangster's Paradise (Jerusalema)

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

Director: Ralph Ziman

Writers: Ralph Ziman, Mtutuzeli Matshoba

Genre : Crime, Action, Drama

Release year: 2008

Runtime : 119 min

After running into some trouble as a small-time crook, Lucky Kunene decides to move to Hillbrow and start driving taxis. But when he is a victim of crime, he becomes intent on making crime work for him. He evolves from a small-time car thief to a big-time property fraudster, or ‘affirmative repossesor’. Hunted by an unwavering white policeman and at odds with a Nigerian drug lord, Kunene must try to protect his assets and keep his reputation as Africa’s Robin Hood.

The young Lucky Kunene (Jafta Mamabolo) is quite authentic. In the crime hot spots of post-apartheid Johannesburg, he must learn his lessons from the school of township life. Watching his criminal endeavors (i.e. theft) is thrilling and the viewer is compelled to be empathetic towards him. Mamabolo’s dramatic presence is promising.

The older version of Lucky Kunene is played by the seasoned and highly acclaimed Rapulana Seiphemo. Casting may have missed the mark a bit here. There is little to no character continuity. This actor who is known for his role in the extremely popular soap opera Generations is rather smooth and sophisticated for the character of Kunene. Seiphemo certainly demonstrates his skill by doing exceptionally well in a role that just wasn’t made for him.

The best gangster films are those in which viewers can't help but root for the gangster in spite of his hardnosed actions. The strength of the first part of the film lay in its raw portrayal of what life in crime can do to a person. Audiences identify with the character because they experience his trajectory, witness its inevitability. It is heart-wrenching, yet accurate. The latter part of the film does not deliver in this respect. The character’s protagonism seems forced.

Jerusalema has been compared to films such as Scarface and City of God, but it is distinguished by its acquired Mzansi flavor. Cinematographer Nic Hofmeyr managed to present an unexaggerated portrayal of the City of Gold. This was largely due to the modest budget, but the aesthetic depiction played a large part in making the plot seem realistic.

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