STANDER directed by Bronwen Hughes, written by Bima Stagg, produced by Martin F. Katz, Chris Roland and Julia Verdin, with Thomas Jane, Dexter Fletcher, David O'Hara, Deborah Unger and Marius Weyers. 116 minutes. An Odeon Films release. Opens Friday (December 3). For review, venues and times, see Movie listings. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
in the early 80s, when South Africa was under brutal lockdown, a white police captain shot a black protestor dead during a township riot. No news there.
But then Captain Andre Stander ducked the front line for desk duty and took up robbing banks on his lunch hour.
By the time they were done, the Stander gang had become South Africa's most wanted, offering a sweet white fuck-you to apartheid.
It's almost too weird to be fiction, and in dramatizing the facts Bronwen Hughes's film cuts to the heart of the story's surreal thrills. Here was a cop donning the simplest of disguises and ripping off the very system that paid him to kill.
Weirder still is that Hughes is a Toronto native who cut her teeth directing Kids in the Hall shorts, yet she's made Stander an intense, gutsy movie that nails the political context without ever hammering at it.
Even better, she sidesteps the crime caper clichés.
"It's a film about the man, not a film about the heists," Hughes says in a suite high up in the Four Seasons. "It's about what makes this man tick, what pushes him to do what he does and what keeps him going once he's crossed the line. And that's much closer to the kind of films that were made in the 70s, like The French Connection. I don't even remember what the plot of that movie was; I remember Popeye Doyle."
Hughes's filmmography doesn't exactly scream gritty 70s character study. After Kids in the Hall, she directed Harriet The Spy, then that Ben Affleck-Sandra Bullock effort called Forces Of Nature.
"Stander is much closer to the kind of movie that made me want to make films in the first place," she says. "I grew up at the rep cinemas, at the Bloor and the Revue. I would go to double bills of Fassbinder and Bertolucci. That's what I loved." Hughes's career to date makes for a fascinating case study in seizing opportunity.
"You don't actually get to pick and choose what you do and when," she points out. "You get your power or find your voice in different ways."
For Stander, she made her connection when she "weaselled" her way into prison to meet the last surviving member of the Stander gang, Allan Heyl.
"The first screenplay was full of clichés about how they robbed banks, like, 'Get down on the floor, motherfucker!', spraying bullets everywhere and hiding out in low-life motels.
"Allan was like, 'Uh-uh,'" Hughes recalls. "Their whole thing was to be invisible bank robbers, to get in and out before anyone even realized they'd been robbed. And their camouflage was to live in the ritziest neighbourhoods of Jo'burg, behind the high fences where nobody asks questions."
She rewrote the script, and Stander has since become a massive hit in South Africa.
"I've always gone where the opportunity is," Hughes says, in the bright, self-deprecating manner that marks her as both successful and Canadian. "This reel of 10 Kids shorts started to circulate around Hollywood and my phone started ringing."
After dropping out of a big studio comedy when she "woke up one morning just crying, floods of tears, cuz I thought I don't know what I'm doing," she found her feet with Harriet The Spy. Now she vows to make only the movies that move her.
"It's two hours out of the viewer's life," she says, "but two years of thinking about nothing else night and day, including my dreams, for the time I'm making that movie. It really is that intense. It eats you." email@example.com