‘Kings’ Review: The L.A. Riots as You’ve Never Seen Them

The L.A. riots began on April 29, 1992, and almost exactly 25 years later, roughly half a dozen documentaries and TV specials — at least one of them Oscar-worthy (John Ridley’s “Let It Fall”) — hit the mediasphere to mark the solemn anniversary, each attempting to make sense of events in its own way. Debuting at the Toronto Film Festival more than four months later, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s “Kings” is like the guy who arrives late to the party, hung over and disheveled, looking like he probably slept in his car. Oh, and it just might be the most daring movie of the year — although that, in and of itself, only gets you so far, especially after the epic downer that was Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit” (a movie no one expected to be fun but we all had reason to hope might at least be good).

Ergüven’s title refers to two African-American Kings, Martin Luther and Rodney, unrelated and yet totally inseparable, twin fuses on the powder keg that sparked this incredible tragedy. Except that to the writer-director, who was born in Turkey and raised in France (and who has strong thoughts about how it feels to be an outsider in one’s own country), tragedy alone doesn’t describe the riots, which aren’t so easily reducible. Judging by the film’s wildly uneven and flagrantly irreverent tone, those six days represented a moment of profound existential absurdity with a perverse comedic dimension that simply had to be acknowledged. As such, “Kings” is a complicated tangle of conflicting moods and emotions: Within the core set of characters alone, people lose kids, kill siblings, have first-time sex, get arrested, make the news and somehow still manage to finish their homework, all in the space of the riots’ first 24 hours.

As incongruous as those experiences are, Ergüven based her screenplay on extensive research and detailed interviews with real people, compositing the incidents she uncovered into a surreal ensemble…

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