CANNES, France (AP) — Academy award-winner Forest Whitaker turns in a solid performance as a cop searching for the murderer of a white teenager in the movie “Zulu,” a violent and often shocking portrayal of South African gang culture where traces of apartheid still linger.
The film premiered at the close of the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday and is directed by “Largo Winch”’s Jerome Salle, co-starring Orlando Bloom as a free-wheeling white officer, as well as South African actor Conrad Kemp.
As a child, Whitaker’s character Ali narrowly escaped being murdered by Inkhata, a militant political party at war with Nelson Mandela’s anti-apartheid ANC. Now, as chief of Cape Town’s homicide branch, his quest to bring the perpetrator to justice leads him on a path that uncovers the unhealed wounds of post-apartheid South Africa.
“Zulu”’s explcit, and, at times even gratuitous, depiction of violence and inter-human relations, paints a highly cynical picture of post-colonial Cape Town, one in which authorities are corrupt and vigilante justice is king.
Whitaker won the Oscar for his mesmerizing portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in 2006’s “The Last King of Scotland,” and is known for adopting a method-acting approach to his roles. In preparation for “Zulu,” he met with real-life Zulu gang members — some just out of prison — and went inside local communities to immerse himself in the character who suffers personal tragedies both in childhood and as an adult.
“I met the actual gang members from the different communities: the Zulu gang leaders, and the different members out of the prisons… I find that it helps to find the source of the character,” the actor said.
“The violent crimes unit took me around quite a bit … which helped me understand what it was like to be around the townships,” he said, adding that he also learned Zulu and Afrikaans in the weeks up to filming.
Though the film’s barbaric depiction of torture and murder has been panned by some critics as too showy — severed heads, rapes and graphic mutilations — Whitaker said the film is accurate in its portrayal of gangland violence.
“There were a number of “necklacings” in Khayelitsha, even while we were there,” said Whitaker, referring to the shocking method of summary execution and torture carried out by forcing a rubber tire, filled with petrol, around a victim’s chest and arms, and setting it on fire.