Paradise for Gangster Film Lovers
By Todd A. Smith
Since the early days of the film industry, moviegoers have been captivated by tales of organized crimes and the “glamorous” lives of gangsters. However, very few films tell the story of how life’s desperation can lead to a life of crime, not just the desire to live that glamorous life. Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema is a movie that seeks to explore the psyche of people entering the life of crime, and does a decent job succeeding in its efforts.
The film directed by Ralph Ziman, and based on real events, centers on an intelligent young South African, Lucky Kunene played as an adult by Rapulana Seiphemo (Tsotsi), who has dreams of attending a local university but does not have the funds to pay the tuition. He hustles for pocket change with his friend Zakes played as an adult by Ronnie Nyakale but soon realizes that the little money made hustling legitimately will not be of much help to his dreams of earning a college education.
With the help of a local criminal Nazareth (Jeffrey Sekele), Lucky and Zakes are introduced to carjacking, later graduating to armored car robberies and ultimately hijacking apartment buildings throughout Johannesburg.
Although Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema drags a bit at the beginning while setting up Lucky’s financial predicament, it succeeds because unlike many other gangster films the director focuses on the person more, not just the profession of crime, which allows the audience to sympathize with his plight.
The film is a good portrayal of the complexities of poverty and the desire to do anything to escape that impoverished environment. Although the film is set in the slums of South Africa, Lucky’s story is a microcosm of many African American youth in the slums of America who have given up on achieving the American dream righteously and have resorted to making their financial dreams come true by any means necessary.
Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema also succeeds because it shows the pain and strife that parents endure when their children abandon their positive aspirations for a life of crime because of their financial predicament. Furthermore, it shows the perseverance and unconditional love that a parent shows in an attempt to save their child from self-destruction.
However, it is a typical gangster flick in the fact that betrayal always rears its ugly head, as one person in the organization attempts to bring down the head of that organization.
The film also features an interracial relationship from an African perspective, which does not often get portrayed in films.
Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema is also worth checking out because of the superb acting by the cast. Although, the actors are not household names yet, their talent is obvious and will only be an amount of time until they are household names.
Similar to movies like The Godfather trilogy, this also shows how difficult it is to get out of a life a crime and the negative influence gangsters have on those around them, despite their efforts to steer them away from a life a crime.
Nevertheless, it you are a fan of gangster films, you should be in paradise watching this film.
The film opens in Houston on June 11.
Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.