Watch Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema
- 1 hr 59 min
Set in the sprawling township of Soweto during the tumultuous late '90s, Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema is a gritty crime drama centering around the schemes and struggles of charismatic hoodlum Lucky Kunene (played magnetically by Rapulana Seiphemo). With the end of apartheid, South Africa is in a state of flux, and Lucky sees an opportunity to rise to wealth and power using his natural cunning and his ability to gather a loyal following.
In the early moments of the movie, we see him working as a parking attendant, stealing cars and using his earnings to buy property in the slums that Soweto is built from. As his self-made empire grows, he comes up against fellow gangsters, corrupt police officers, and eventually politicians. He views everyone in this way - as a potential opponent or ally in his quest for total control.
Lucky's scheme involves setting up a sort of informal community mortgage lending institution that operates outside the regular banking system. He convinces his neighbors to join in by buying properties and awarding him partial ownership. He then gives them loans at better rates than the banks do, with only one condition - if they can't make their monthly payments, he takes the property. It's a high-risk, high-reward operation that nets him millions, but also puts him in the crosshairs of the deeply corrupt local police.
Despite the harshness of his work, Lucky isn't a wholly unsympathetic character. He's never violent to his own, and his motivations seem as much rooted in a desire for respect and affluence as they are in a sense of retribution for the poverty and social injustices many of his neighbors face. At the same time, Lucky is an opportunistic rogue, and the film doesn't shy away from showing the brutal reality of his life choices - such as when he forces a mother to sell her infant's coffin to pay off a debt.
Along the way, Lucky gathers a group of compatriots, including his best friend Zakes (Jeffrey Sekele) and the volatile Gabisile (played with fierce intensity by Ronnie Nyakale). There's a genuine sense of camaraderie here that helps to elevate the arc of the film - it's easy to see why these hustlers would be drawn to each other, and their high-stakes interactions crackle with energy.
Director Ralph Ziman's camera work gives the film a sense of gritty immediacy. We follow Lucky through the sunbaked streets he operates in, in a confident, immersive style that accentuates the film's realistic, street-level tone. The soundtrack is likewise energetic and effective, with a mix of hip-hop and traditional South African tunes.
One of the most interesting aspects of Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema is the role it plays as a snapshot of South Africa at an important stage in its history. The post-apartheid era comes with a sense of hope and possibility, but also carries the weight of the inequalities and wounds of the past. Lucky is both a product of this new South Africa and a symptom of its problems - he's able to thrive precisely because the nation is in flux.
Overall, Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema is a well-crafted crime film that offers a dark, uncompromising look at the realities of life in South African townships. It's anchored by a strong lead performance from Rapulana Seiphemo, and bolstered by a talented supporting cast that brings the streets of Soweto to life. The movie is both a fascinating character study and a gritty, adrenaline-fueled ride - definitely worth a watch for fans of the genre.
Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema is a 2008 action movie with a runtime of 1 hour and 59 minutes. It has received moderate reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 7.3 and a MetaScore of 53.