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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Stander (2003)

"You know a white man could get away with anything today? While the police are too busy crushing the blacks!"
- Andres Stander (Tom Jane)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: December 20, 2004

Stars: Tom Jane
Other Stars: Dexter Fletcher, David Patrick O'Hara, Deborah Kara Unger, Marius Weyers, Ashley Taylor
Director: Bronwen Hughes

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language, and some sexuality and nudity
Run Time: 01h:52m:17s
Release Date: December 21, 2004
UPC: 043396087903
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+A-A- B

DVD Review

Stander is the best movie of its kind in quite some time. A gritty bank-robber drama, it's just as visceral and watchable as, and far more engaging and emotional than, big-budget fare like Ocean's Twelve. But, for some reason, director Bronwen's Hughes' film never played in American theaters, despite the presence of marquee name Thomas (now Tom) Jane (The Punisher). I could chastise Columbia Pictures for not releasing it, I suppose, but, given the state of the box-office these days, I can't say I blame them. A movie based on the true story of a white cop in 1980s, apartheid-stricken South Africa who, disillusioned by police corruption, turns to a life of bank robbery and a certain, sticky end does sound like a bit of a hard sell. Mr. Trailer Voice might find that summary to be quite a mouthful (though the tagline on the DVD cover goes for the most obvious angle: Good cop. Great criminal. Yeah, I don't have too much faith in those marketing guys either).

Too bad for Jane, who gives his best performance since emerging as an awkward, B-level action hero a few years back, when his toughest challenge involved reacting to big, rubbery sharks in Deep Blue Sea. He goes deep in his portrayal of Andres Stander, a detective in Johannesburg who suffers a crisis of conscience after he witnesses the way black protestors are brutalized during a protest march, and even kills a man himself while in the heat of the moment. He asks to be taken off riot duty, which is tantamount to ending his promising career as the youngest police captain in South Africa. He can't share his inner turmoil with his decorated, straight-laced father (Marius Weyers), a retired general, nor the ex-wife he's recently remarried (Debra Kara Unger) and from whom he has already distanced himself, and before long, he cracks. One day, when everyone on the force is out quelling another so-called riot, he realizes "a white man could get away with anything," and decides to test his theory by robbing a bank.

Suddenly, what had been a drama about a moral crisis becomes a heist film, as Stander, invigorated by the sense of freedom and rebellion after a successful job (his brightened mood certainly confuses his wife), decides to make robbery his new hobby. Hughes handles the shift in tone quite well—the entire film has the gritty, soft-focus feel of a 1970s exploitation flick, so the contrast between the tumult of an early riot scene (which uses shaky camerawork, rapid editing, and subjective sound design to put the audience in Stander's head) and the thrill of watching Stander, in various disguises, rob banks with style while running circles around his colleagues (even as he bluffs his way through his share of the investigation), feels not at all incongruous.

Soon enough, the tone shifts again. Stander becomes infamous, and his partner figures out what he's up to, and he's thrown in jail for 30 years. There, he meets inmates Alan Heyl (David O'Hara) and Patrick McCall (Dexter Fletcher). The three break out and take up where Andres left off. As the "Stander Gang"—outfitted in disguises, quick, charismatic, and photogenic—they make bank robberies look like fun, and they're soon the most wanted men in the country. They're not quite Robin Hoods, but their public loves them, especially after they start hitting four or five banks a day. One bank manager, interviewed after a crime, brags on the radio that he knew the gang would eventually show up and so he put most of the cash in a hidden safe; the robbers promptly turn their getaway car around and stick up the place again.

Like Bonnie and Clyde, Stander is more concerned with the exploits and emotional journey of its charismatic antihero and his cronies than with the humdrum investigation of the cops in pursuit. That the film glosses over the repercussions of the gang's criminal exploits in favor of high tension suspense and visceral thrills is forgivable, considering the time also spent painting Stander himself in three dimensions. Perhaps we never really get a clear idea why Stander keeps doing what he's doing (first he seems to be acting out, then feeding his ego, then, after his wife cuts off all communication, self-medicating in light of the collapse of his marriage), at least there is some motivation beyond the money. The horrors of apartheid witnessed during the riot scenes cast a pall over the entire picture, and we never quite forget Stander's self-doubt and shame even during the stylish robbery sequences.

I don't know what Hughes, whose past films includes a sunny kid's film and a Ben Affleck rom-com, did to convince a studio she could make this film, but she pulls it off, and with the help of novice cinematographer Jess Hall, turns in a picture with a visual character all its own, a style that doesn't overshadow substance. Bima Stagg's screenplay is a top-notch piece of writing, with a strong lead and good dialogue, but, while it largely avoids biopic clichés, it does suffer a bit from a familiar story arc and a hastily developed supporting cast.

Stander isn't an especially deep film (the only awards consideration it would ever receive would be for Jane's terrific performance, flawless South African accent intact), but it's a smart genre piece with some real substance behind it, and it certainly didn't deserve to premiere on DVD in the US.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Stander has the look at feel of a gritty 1970s picture, and it's perfectly appropriate for the film, even if that means the DVD might seem a little "off." Colors tend to look a bit washed out under heavy filtering, but it's obviously just an effect, as is the more pronounced film grain. Otherwise, black level and fine detail are good and I spotted no edge enhancement to speak of. The source print is likewise free of defects.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Stander features an impressive sound mix that really uses surround audio to enhance the storyline, rather than to solely make action scenes seem cooler. Take, for example, the early riot scene, which starts with the crowd chanting in just the mains, then in the surrounds. Then we hear a lone voice running from channel to channel as the audio places us in Stander's head. It's an unsettling, effective trick. Of course, surrounds are put to good use during action-heavy robbery scenes. Also worthy is the front soundstage, which features strong stereo separation and presents the dialogue clearly and cleanly from the center channel (a blessing, considering all the different accents throughout—though I ended up watching with the subtitles switched on).

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bad Education, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius, Riding Giants, She Hate Me, Silver City
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Bronwen Hughes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Though Columbia TriStar couldn't be bothered to release Stander in theaters in the US, at least the company paid it the courtesy of a decent DVD release. Quality over quantity is the order of the day—going through the material won't take all day, but all of it is informative and worthwhile.

Most impressive is the commentary track from director Bronwen Hughes. I was surprised to cue it up and discover a woman directed Stander, a film with such a male sensibility (it does help explain the lingering nude scenes with Tom Jane, though). Gender aside, I was even more impressed when I looked on the internet and discovered Hughes' previous credits include Harriet the Spy; talk about stretching yourself creatively. Anyway, Hughes is obviously deeply passionate about her film, and she never takes a breath on the track as she discusses the experiences of flying into South Africa for the first time, filming emotional riot scenes using extras that were themselves survivors of apartheid, developing the emotional beats of Stander's story, and shooting the action on location. I've heard many, many commentary tracks, both good and bad (and for films good and bad), and this is easily among the best. Note that she says not a word (unless I missed it) about the fact that her fine film was never released in America, while millions went toward the marketing of, say, Resident Evil: Apocalypse.

Also worthwhile is an Anatomy of a Scene documentary from the Sundance Channel. This 25-minute piece traces the creation and evolution of the emotional riot scene, with a focus on both filming and post-production. It's easily the most arresting, upsetting scene in the movie, and worth such close scrutiny.

Two deleted scenes run for a total of around five minutes and offer character moments that didn't really fit the film overall, but are perfectly fine on their own.

Finally, a trailer gallery includes a "theatrical" (ha!) trailer for Stander and clips for prestige releases from the studio, including Bad Education, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius, Riding Giants, She Hate Me, and Silver City.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Stander is a much better film than its direct-to-video status would lead you to believe. Former B-grade action hero Tom Jane gives an arresting, electric performance as the title character, propelling this carefully constructed but conventional heist picture into the realm of compelling drama. Though the studio didn't initially give it the respect (and theatrical release) it clearly deserves, the DVD almost makes up for it.


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