Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Kino! ’15: The Kings Surrender

On the one hand, you have the Sondereinsatzkommando (the SEK), the German version of SWAT. On the other, you have neighborhood punks, who are barely organized enough to be considered a gang. Yet, they are both as tribal as they can be. They have socialized together in a drunken brawling kind of way, but serious hostilities will flare when an outsider plants the wrong gun on the wrong innocent suspect in Philipp Leinemann’s The Kings Surrender (trailer here), which screens as part of Kino! 2015, the festival of German Films in New York City.

The SEK of an unnamed but clearly economically depressed German city are going through a rough patch. When raiding a drug dealer’s flat, an officer is badly shot. One of the presumed shooters gets away. This is particularly bad news for the SEK, because the local politicians are considering doing away with one of the squads, because the city is so obviously safe and secure. Bad press like this does not help. Nor does it lead to clear-headed decision-making by Kevin, the hot-headed squad leader.

Meanwhile, in a storyline soon to intersect with the SEK officers, charismatic Thorsten leads a group of local toughs that is nearly as much a social thing as it is a criminal enterprise. Let’s just say, they do a lot of drinking. For some reason, Nassim the son of an immigrant grocer idolizes Thorsten, despite being at least a full generation younger than his idol. To curry favor, Nassim arranges a job for Thorsten’s best bud Ioannis at his father’s store. Unfortunately, in a fit of juvenile jealousy, Nassim plants a gun he found in Ioannis’s locker and drops a dime with the cops. Yes, that would be the gun from before. Soon, both groups are caught up in a wave of vengeance-taking, while a few skeptical beat officers try to protect Ioannis from their more prominent colleagues.

Casting for Surrender probably included a mandatory swagger test. Yet, even with all the testosterone in the mix, the film’s vibe is more reminiscent of the moody thrillers of the 1970s that often featured moral ambiguous antiheroes and a preoccupation with institutional corruption. There is a lot of rottenness in Surrender, but there is no denying the gritty atmosphere and the power of the ensemble performances, particularly Ronald Zehrfeld as the unraveling Kevin and Samia Muriel Chancrin, as one of the few women characters of note—Nadine, the street cop who refuses to be intimidated by the SEK’s posturing.

Perhaps what most distinguished Surrender is the way it depicts the full spectrum of police corruption, from just a smidge to absolute crookedness, representing just about every point in between. You could assign each character a unique number value for their individual level of moral compromise. Unfortunately, Leinemann gives audience far more of Nassim’s adolescent angst than we really need, but otherwise it is quite a compelling, far reaching copper morality play. Recommended for fans of Sidney Lumet’s New York movies, The Kings Surrender screens this Friday (4/10) and Monday (4/13) at the Cinema Village, as part of this year’s Kino! in New York.