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iNumber Number
Genre Crime
 
Review:

South Africa's epidemic of crime has inspired films like Tsotsi, Jerusalema, A Million Colours, How to Steal 2 Million, Stander, Hijack Stories and more recently, Four Corners. We're living in a gangster's paradise with a flourishing subculture of violence and criminality. While the SAPS and local crime watch initiatives are trying to combat this, crime is still a prominent issue in South Africa.

Cops and robbers make great gangster movies, delivering the right mix of characters, plot devices and conflicts to them memorable. It's no wonder films like The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather I & II, City of God, The Usual Suspects and Goodfellas are held in such high regard. Crime and punishment, right and wrong, justice and injustice... South Africa is a cesspool of strong crime stories waiting to be adapted to film.

iNumber Number leverages South Africa's burgeoning crime rate against Hollywood's burning desire to tell a story that's entertaining and thought-provoking. Spud and Spud: The Madness Continues... writer-director, Donovan Marsh, manages to get this right in his gangster crime drama thrill ride, echoing Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Scorsese's The Departed, while distilling a South African flavour.

This heist movie follows Chili Ncgobo (Mtshali), an undercover cop who risks everything in the hopes of making out with his share of the loot after a cash-in-transit armoured vehicle robbery. He's fiercely determined and ideally positioned to infiltrate a big job, but when things don't go to plan... Chili has to muster every trick to keep his cover and roll with it.

iNumber Number is a who's who of South African gangster actors. Ex-gangster-turned-actor, Israel Makoe has played roles in Tsotsi and Yizo Yizo, adding a strong and ferocious performance as the paranoid, Skroef. Presley Chweneyagae is best known for the title role in Gavin Hood's Tsotsi, but plays an almost unrecognisable role on the other side of the law as the straight-laced cop, "Shoes".

Brendon Daniels tackles another tough guy gangster role after a powerful lead performance in Four Corners. Warren Masemola has an intimidation factor, as witnessed in Nothing for Mahala, and brings it home opposite mercenary tough guy, Brandon Auret. The cast is rounded off by crime drama veteran, Owen Sejake, and cemented by a complex and convincing performance by S'Dumo Mtshali in his first lead role in a gangster movie.

While much of the film is set in an abandoned warehouse, Donovan Marsh keeps the story taut with some tense edge-of-your-seat moments. Chili's undercover mission keeps us on the fence, rooting for him to stay one step ahead of his teammates, despite his selfish motives. On the surface, he looks and acts like a criminal, yet deep down he's a good guy battling to resist the temptation of "easy money". The morality conflicts run rampant in iNumber Number, adding weight to every twist-and-turn.

The cinematography gives iNumber Number a gritty yet dynamic overlay, allowing us to see bloodshot eyes and beads of sweat only to pull back for a safe house or armoured vehicle takedown. It's a bloody and frequently violent film that carries the same disregard for human life as its hardened criminal characters. While it features a mix of South African languages and subtitles, the language is as coarse and street smart as you'd expect. What is unexpected, is the dark comedy undertones, which soften the intensity with some amusing bumbling and devil-may-care attitude.

Strong co-lead performances, a solid ensemble, suspenseful gangster drama, intense riveting action, street smarts and a refreshing South African take on Reservoir Dogs, make for compelling viewing in iNumber Number. Donovan Marsh has created a gritty and entertaining gangster film that tips the hat to its influences while adding a refreshing South African spin on a well-worn genre.

The bottom line: Gutsy

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