Particularly with the kinds of headlines earning national attention these days, it might not surprise you to learn that there are those that believe the only difference between a police officer and a criminal depends on who wears the badge. It’s not a new concept, and has formed the foundation of countless movies and TV dramas, but writer/director Philipp Leinemann somewhat boldly seems to pretend there are no precedents with “The King’s Surrender.” Another tale of bad cops doing bad things, it’s a grueling retread over familiar ground with little redeeming value.
The story kicks off with a German SWAT team raiding the home of a drug dealer, but things go south very quickly. An officer is shot and badly wounded, the dealer himself is killed in a hail of bullets, and one of his accomplices gets away. This is just the start of sprawling tale that weaves together a corrupt squad of cops trying to stay out of trouble, while inner city gangs battle for turf intersect with the law with deadly consequences. Things intensify when more bodies begin to stack up and scandals threaten to surface. Someone will have to be a scapegoat for careers and lives to be saved. Following the familiar playbook for this kind of movie, those of virtue and vice are found on all sides.
This is not to stay something interesting can’t be made out of routine genre tropes, but Leinemann’s approach is dull, and filled with one-dimensional stock characters. From the bad cop who wants to do the right thing to the young thug on parole trying to make a clean break, but drawn back to the street life he’s always known, “The King’s Surrender” presents a wide ensemble of players who tediously slide into preset positions in the narrative playbook. Whatever suspense is supposed to arise from these presumably morally ambiguous characters hardly registers given how predictably they act from moment to moment.
Through it all, Leinemann keeps a stoic, straight faced tone in every element of the production. With permanently pained expressions on the faces of the characters, the film takes place in a city that never has sunlight, where everyone hangs out after dark in dimly lit bars and works in shadowy offices. Though the visuals were likely chosen to replicate the oppressive, unescapable monotony of everyone who is caught in a cycle of trying to stay a step ahead of whatever scheme is unfolding, the story itself is so poorly laid out, the tension that is supposed to come with it never registers. This is a grim movie with grim characters participating in a grim story, with the director making the mistake of thinking that the bleakness emanating from the screen is enough to carry a movie that feels like it has overstayed its welcome as it pushes the two-hour mark.
The lynchpin to the story in “The King’s Surrender” is a little boy named Nassim (Mohamed Issa). Growing up in the same low income housing projects where the young gangs thrive, he does everything possible to ingratiate himself with the local toughs he admires. In many ways, that character feels like a stand in for the director. “The King’s Surrender” also seems like it desperately wants to be part of the crime canon, and brings with it a smoky swagger and eagerness to please. But just like Nassim, Leinemann’s main problem is that none of it feels authentic. [D]