The Slums of Johannesburg + A Wannabe Scarface = Gangster’s Paradise


Crudely modeled after Rio gang drama City of God and its superior Scorsese/De Palma forefathers, Gangster’s Paradise charts a young crook’s rise to Johannesburg slumlord with derivative flash and faux-moralizing. Failing to secure a university scholarship in 1994, poverty-stricken Lucky Kunene (Rapulana Seiphemo) instead turns to carjacking and—after moving to the big, bad city—to real estate scams, all the while purporting to be a Robin Hood humanitarian combating his homeland’s racist power structure. Writer/director Ralph Ziman bends over backward stacking the deck in Lucky’s favor by making his light- and dark-skinned adversaries even scummier than he is. Nevertheless, given that the inspired-by-real-events story has its wannabe-Scarface operate solely out of amoral self-interest, any rationalized glorification of its protagonist rings false. So, too, does Lucky’s silent seething over a white woman confessing that “when you’re rich, poverty seems glamorous,” since the film wantonly exploits destitution and violence for genre thrills. Though South Africa’s racial strife is frequently invoked, sociopolitical inquiry takes a backseat to creaky gangster-cinema tropes. Still, there’s minor amusement in the suggestion that entrepreneurial criminality begins with a preference for Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal over the Bible.