Millie Dunbar (Halle Berry) is the big-hearted, hard-working foster mother of many, many children. They’re crammed in to her apartment, bunk beds stacked on bunk beds, but they are safe and happy and loved. Except of course when Obie (Daniel Craig), the cantankerous upstairs neighbour, is harassing them, yelling at them to shut the hell up. Other than that, it may be a struggle, but it’s home.
Unfortunately, home, in south central Los Angeles, is about to get shaken up. It’s just days before the Rodney King verdict will be delivered. Things are about to blow up.
Like Gook, Kings looks at this contentious, violent time by getting intimate with one of the every day people affected by it. And I don’t just mean affected by the riots directly, though Millie’s family certainly will be. In Kings, we see the trial on the tiny, fuzzy TV sets in every living room. People are living and breathing it. Millie is deeply moved by the updates on the news, and Halle Berry’s excellent work reaches out to touch us in the audience. Millie is raising multiple black boys in a neighourhood patrolled by white cops looking for any excuse (or no excuse) to take out their disgust with the trial on anyone whose skin fits the profile. For her, it’s real, and the consequences are terrifying. Halle Berry hasn’t had roles really worthy of her lately, but this is a good one to sink into.
Of course, things really get moving after the verdict is read. Millie’s kids are strewn all over a city going down in flames, and she is not the type to sit on her couch and hope they come home safely. Her rescue mission will be aided and abetted by Obie.
This movie isn’t about the riots, but about an unconventional family caught up in them. I am not old enough to have my own memories of this time, but of course I haven’t failed to absorb all kinds of details and impressions over the years. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever really felt it, or understood the extent of what it must have been like for a black person in L.A. (and elsewhere in the country, I imagine) at the time, the disbelief that this verdict could be returned, and the utter fear, the utter terror for one’s safety, and for that of every kid in the community. What a brutal reminder, as if one was needed, that their lives are not equally valued in their own country, to their fellow countrymen. Berry’s panic, and the tears that come so easily to her eyes, tell me this.