And so I decided to check it out. At best, though, it’s a so-so action flick buoyed by the casting of heavyweights such as Rapulana Sepheimo, Hakeem Kae-Kazim and Nompilo Gwala. Heck, even Terence Bridgett got a cameo as a delivery man.
Before fans get hot under the collar over my comment, hear me out.
Great actors can make average movies. South Africa has churned out fantastic gritty crime films. Two of my favourites remain Gavin Hood’s Oscar-winning “Tsotsi” as well as Ralph Ziman’s “Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema” (originally titled “Jerusalema”, not to be confused with Master KG’s current hit song).
“Santana” follows the genre’s blueprint but my issue is with the overall execution of the film.
The movie opens in Luanda, Angola, with criminals bulldozing their way into the home of a family. The heavily pregnant mother is busy in her bedroom and her young son unwittingly lets them in, a decision that turns out to be the beginning of a life-changing nightmare in which he is shot and his parents killed. Fortunately, his baby brother is delivered before his mother dies.
Fast-forward several years, the brothers – Matias (Raul Rosario), who is the elder of the two, and Dias (Paulo Americano) – are now in law enforcement.
Their personalities are vastly different, though. Matias is responsible, a more by-the-book kind of guy. He’s also very protective of Dias, who, despite being great at his job as the head of an elite task team, leads a life of boozing, partying and one-night stands.
The lines between personal and professional agendas blur when they try to put an end to a flourishing drug trade run by Ferreira (Sepheimo), who is also the man who killed their parents.
And so battle lines are drawn with Ferreira trying to execute the cops hunting him down. When that fails, he flees to Cape Town.
This doesn’t deter Matias and Dias, who, with the help of some underground as well as influential friends, track him down to make him pay for his diabolical deeds.
The cat-and-mouse chase is peppered with love, betrayal, deception, politics and witchcraft. Okay, the latter aspect threw me a bit, more so as nothing came of the hype built around it.
The first 30 minutes of the film is like a puzzle where you are trying to connect the dots. Once you get it, it becomes easier to follow the narrative.
Kae-Kazim does what he does best in these henchmen roles – he raises hell. The brotherly camaraderie between Angolan leads Rosario and Americano attests to the chemistry between the actors, who held their own in the fight scenes, too.
Sepheimo cannot be faulted for his performance. He had to be a raging badass villain and he pulled it off in the limited frames he was in.
The directing and editing is where the film comes up short. Many fight scenes felt staged and the narrative could have played out more fluidly.
Of course, I’m not saying this movie should be avoided. Just lower your expectations. It’s entertaining – certainly judging by the rating it received. But it’s an average action flick, bolstered by a few sex scenes, interesting cultural backdrops and familiar local faces.
“Santana” is streaming on Netflix.