Kings

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Kings Movie Poster Image
Uneven LA riots drama has violence, sex, and language.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 92 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Shows the need for empathy between various groups and understanding of institutional racism and injustice. Also promotes closeness between families, between siblings, and between siblings and their parents.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Millie is a loving foster mother who cares deeply about each of the children in her care. Obie is curmudgeonly but helps Millie and the kids when they need him. Jesse is a dedicated older brother who learns from his mistakes.

Violence

Begins with confrontation between a black teenager and a Korean convenience store owner, who ends up shooting and killing the teen. Lots of armed confrontations between LAPD and citizens of South Central LA. Archival footage of rioters beating a man they pull from a truck. A young man stabs another young man to stop him from hurting a grocer. Obie shoots his gun in the air and throws a "barricade" of appliances and furniture when the police come to his building.

Sex

Millie has an erotic dream in which she and Obie are naked and on a bed together, kissing and caressing each other. In another brief but explicit scene, a teen character catches/watches two high school-aged characters having sex (naked breasts visible, moaning, thrusting on the bed). A adult man makes a sexually explicit proposition to a much younger woman, but she rejects him.

Language

Frequent strong language includes "motherf----r," "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "ass," "bitch," "c--ksucker," "pervert," and more.

Consumerism

Jeep Cherokee, Burger King.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens and adults drink hard liquor. A young woman gets drunk by drinking directly from a bottle.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kings is Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven's first English-language film (her previous film, Mustang, earned an Oscar nomination). It takes place in South Central LA during the 1992 riots and follows a single foster mother (Halle Berry), her eight kids (especially the tweens and teens), and her neighbor (Daniel Craig) during the chaos. Expect lots of violence, including guns and stabbing, plus archival footage of fights, looting, and the Rodney King beating. There's also frequent strong language (including "f--k" and "s--t"), drinking (at least once to excess), smoking, and some erotic/explicit scenes (there's partial nudity, kissing, moaning, etc.). Families with older teens who see the movie will have plenty to discuss -- mostly about the film's historical context and its current relevance.

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What's the story?

KINGS begins in March 1991 with a dramatization of the death of Latasha Harlins, who was killed in South Central LA during an altercation with a Korean convenience store owner who mistakenly thought she was trying to steal a $2 bottle of orange juice and ended up shooting her in the back of the head. From there, the story focuses on Millie (Halle Berry), an apparent foster mother raising eight multicultural children from babies and toddlers to an older teen named Jesse (Lamar Johnson). Millie takes in two more teens, William (Kaalan Walker) and Nicole (Rachel Hilson), neither of whom has another place to stay. Then, on April 29, 1992, after the officers involved in the Rodney King beating are acquitted, violence breaks out in the form of rioting. Millie, with help from her eccentric neighbor, Obie (Daniel Craig) -- the only white man in the movie who isn't a cop -- tries to locate all of her kids in the ensuing chaos.

Is it any good?

Although there was potential in exploring the chaos of the LA riots from an atypical perspective, director Deniz Gamze Ergüven's drama is more of a confusing mess than a revelation. Kings (a reference to both Rodney King and Martin Luther King Jr.) is particularly disappointing when you consider how masterful Ergüven's Mustang was. It can sometimes require a delicate balance when a filmmaker from another country tells a uniquely American story, and in this case, no matter how much research might have been done in preparation, Ergüven doesn't seem to know how to approach the subject matter.

There are moments in Kings when it feels less like a tale of the riots and more a messy romantic dramedy between a gorgeous but put-upon single mom and her eccentric, boozy neighbor with a penchant for walking around his house naked. Somehow, in the lead up to one of the most seminal riots in American history, this film has time to show Millie's erotic dream featuring Obie. Meanwhile, the two oldest teen boys in Millie's care both fall for Nicole, the fearless homeless classmate that Jesse brings home. Then there's the cohort of pre-teens and elementary-aged siblings who have a Little Rascals-like adventure: looting new clothes and toys and then standing around while a Burger King manager begs a crowd not to throw bottle bombs by reminding them of the menu items they love so much. Like the entire film, the sequence is off-putting, confusing, and surreal. Audiences are far better off skipping the fiction and watching John Ridley's Let It Fall.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Kings. How realistic is it? What techniques do filmmakers use to create realistic violence as opposed to fantasy violence? Which has greater impact?

  • How does the movie deal with race/racism and social/legal injustice? The movie is set in 1992, but does it still feel relevant? What were some of the many reasons for the 1992 riots?

  • Which characters, if any, do you consider role models? What character strengths and life skills do they exhibit?

Movie details

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