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Durban Poison
Genre Crime
 
Review:

"Durban Poison is sure to impress the most jaded of pot smokers." While this online review refers to the sweet and earthy strain of cannabis, named after the South African port city, Andrew Worsdale delivers a similar experience to what it must be like to smoke this brand of marijuana in his film, Durban Poison.

The crime romance drama road movie is loosely based on the true story of the infamous South African couple, Charmaine Phillips and Pieter Grundlingh. The two went on a murderous spree over 17 days in June 1983, leaving four corpses in their wake. A slew of outlaw romance road movies and thirty years later, their story has made the jump to celluloid as a first for South Africa.

Durban Poison begins with the two in prison, embarking on a road trip with police officers to uncover the locations and motives behind their crimes. Through a series of flashbacks, we're given a fly-on-the-wall tour of the complicated love story between the drug-infused haze of murders, but Durban Poison isn't really about the murders.

Brandon Auret and Cara Roberts co-star in this gritty indie crime romance with a film noir appetite. They're both a law unto themselves as self-confessed prostitute, Joline, and the cantankerous construction worker, Piet, decide to make a quick buck whenever and however they can.

While Brandon Auret is essentially Neill Blomkamp's voodoo doll, he's given a meaty lead role in Durban Poison as Piet, the hedonistic working class thug with his heart on his rolled up sleeve. Auret works beautifully in this role, rising to the challenge to inject grit, determination and passion into this misguided and psychotic soul.

He pushes off debutant actress, Cara Roberts, whose performance conjures up Noomi Rapace in The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. She's got great instincts and delivers a natural performance, operating in her second skin to create great chemistry opposite Auret. The two literally drive the film on the back of these paradoxical characters. On the surface, they're simple low class South Africans, yet their unpredictable behaviour adds another layer of complexity.

Durban Poison is a great showcase for Brandon Auret and Cara Roberts, yet they're not alone, supported by some fine veteran acting talents in Gys de Villiers, Danny Keogh, Marcel van Heerden, Drikius Volschenk, Marie Human and Frank Opperman. The performances from the core ensemble are strong and keep the film distinctly South African, retaining the story's emotional integrity. It's interesting to note that Marcel van Heerden and Marie Human were originally set to play the co-leads when the film took root in 1988.

Although in today's political and social climate, the leads could just as easily starred Ninja and Yo-landi from the infamous group, Die AntwoordThe modern day Bonnie & Clyde story may not involve banks, but relays the exploits of two lovers on-the-run from the law. Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers is present in the trashy, violent and stylistic choices in Durban Poison. While not nearly as trippy, David Lynch's Wild at Heart echoes in the reckless abandon and restless spirit.

Worsdale has a great eye for what works visually and while it isn't a Hollywood movie, the guerilla style filming gives it a rugged look and feel. The film's budgetary constraints count against it in some instances, when it comes to consistency of sound, foley work and munitions. This is a great pity, when you consider the film's merits, but could necessitate a remake.

The narrative is also sometimes difficult to follow. The story jumps between the couple's past love story, murderous spree and their police escorted road trip. This structure keeps the audience curiously off-balance, but it's still fascinating as we gather bits of information together to form a clearer picture of the characters and their driving motivations.

Durban Poison is refreshing in the way it tackles this niche genre. While decidedly violent and graphic at times, you almost feel that more would have been better. Perhaps that's just an echo of Natural Born Killers andWild at Heart? Instead, Worsdale concerns himself with the unconventional and fractious romance at its core. By toning down the violence, the film takes on a docudrama realism.

Durban Poison is dark, distinct, earthy, sweet and sure to impress the most jaded of film goers. The co-lead performances light the way as a trashy noir romance based on a true story plays out with panache. While it's loosely structured, somewhat constrained and not for everyone, it tips the hat to the genre and blasts a hole in South Africa's rather naive film industry.

The bottom line: Grungy

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