Takes place in the mean streets of Lagos

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Takes place in the mean streets of Lagos

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December 2008 (UK)  »

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Not quite the normal Theroux films but fascinating issues captured on the ground anyway
9 March 2009 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Although his approach is the same, this is a little bit of a different pair of films from Louis Theroux as he doesn't really focus on a group so much as two sets of challenges. The first of the two films is spent in Philadelphia where he rides with the police and sees firsthand the difficulties of the so called war on drugs. The second film goes to Johannesburg where private security companies with dubious methods control the "peace" in areas and buildings. For both films Louis spends most of his time wearing a bullet proof vest and does his usual "wide-eyed innocent" routine that has served him so well down the years.

On this occasion it doesn't quite convince though because he was clearly aware of the situations and therefore nothing should come as a shock to him – and indeed, although shocking, the things he sees are not unexpected. The problem is that he doesn't really have any consistent subjects to work this act on. Here and there he gets some really good interviews but he never seems to be drawing people out to talk to him in the way he normally does – they either talk or they don't, he seems incidental in a way that he rarely is. This is not a massive problem though because in both cases the subjects are fascinating. The Philadelphia film is of course going to be in the shadow of The Wire and it will mean that the sights and sounds of the streets do not come as a surprise. They are still interesting though and it is good to see it from a non-fictional approach. The downside of the approach is that the film feels "biased" or told from one point of view. The reason for this is that it is and that it set out to be by focusing on the policing of these areas, rather than the wider issues causing the crimes. It doesn't hurt the film but I did have to keep reminding myself that this was meant to be like this.

More informative was the Johanesburg film because this world of chaos in a major global city took me by surprise. It was not that people kill other people, it was the way that it all appears to be "normal" for things to run this way and I cannot remember seeing anyone of "proper" authority in the entire film (although I may be wrong). The film captures this really well even though again it doesn't manage to have the handle on the subject and tight focus points that Theroux's films do – although, again, this doesn't matter because it is fascinating stuff.

Overall then, this pair of films work very well together and, although Theroux himself is not as effective a presenter as he can be, and the focus of the film can be a little annoying in being from one-side, the subjects and problems make for fascinating viewing on the ground.


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