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Street Kings

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Street Kings
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Ayer
Screenplay by
Story byJames Ellroy
Produced by
CinematographyGabriel Beristain
Edited byJeffrey Ford
Music byGraeme Revell
Distributed byFox Searchlight Pictures[1]
Release dates
  • April 3, 2008 (2008-04-03) (Hollywood)
  • April 11, 2008 (2008-04-11) (United States)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million[2]
Box office$66.5 million

Street Kings is a 2008 American action thriller film directed by David Ayer, and starring Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Common and The Game. The initial screenplay drafts were written by James Ellroy in the late 1990s under the title The Night Watchman.

The film was released in theaters on April 11, 2008, and was followed by a direct-to-video stand-alone sequel Street Kings 2: Motor City in 2011, with Clifton Powell returning as a corrupt cop.


Tom Ludlow, who became an alcoholic after his wife's death, is an undercover detective for the LAPD's elite Vice-Special unit. He meets with Korean gangsters for a supposed firearms trade who he believes have kidnapped two teenage girls. During the deal, he allows them to beat him and steal his car and a machine gun. Unbeknownst to them, a tracking device on the vehicle leads him to the gang's hideout.

Upon reaching their hideout, Ludlow storms in, kills the gangsters, alters the scene to make the shootings look justified, then finds the girls locked in a closet. While the rest of his unit congratulate him, he is confronted by his former partner, Detective Terrence Washington, who is tired of police corruption, and has begun reporting suspicions to Captain James Biggs of Internal Affairs, who apparently starts an investigation against Ludlow.

Believing Washington snitched on him, Ludlow follows him to a convenience store to beat him up. However, Washington is killed by two gangsters under the pretense of a robbery. The surveillance video shows Ludlow brawling with and subsequently shooting him accidentally during the gunfight. Based on this, his actions are unjustifiable and incriminating. Captain Jack Wander offers Ludlow an alibi by telling him to remove the surveillance footage, and tells the press he was the first to arrive on scene but too late to save Washington.

The DNA of criminals Fremont and Coates is found at the scene, as well as a large amount of cash on Washington. The investigation assumes that Washington was corrupt, stealing drugs from the evidence room and selling them to Fremont and Coates. Ludlow then enlists Detective Paul Diskant's help, who was responsible for the forensic evidence, in his personal investigation.

As Ludlow and Diskant investigate, they eventually find a house in the hills where they find the bodies of the real Fremont and Coates buried in a shallow grave; it is apparent that they were killed long before Washington's death. Ludlow meets with his widowed wife and hands her the surveillance CD. He empathises with her as he lost his wife previously, tells her he was beside Washington when he died and vows to avenge his murder.

Ludlow and Diskant then pose as dirty cops who are willing to take over the selling of stolen drugs. With Scribble's help they set up a meeting with the two criminals masquerading as Fremont and Coates. Ludlow questions who they really are, when Diskant recognizes them, he is shot and bleeds out to death. Ludlow kills both men and escapes back to his girlfriend's house, where he sees on the news that they were undercover Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies. Ludlow is identified as a 'cop-killer,' so quickly that he understands there are others behind it. At the same time, Detectives Cosmo Santos and Dante Demille break in and handcuff him.

Santos and Demille admit that they killed and planted Fremont and Coates' DNA and the money at the scene of Washington's murder. Ludlow realizes that Washington was in fact informing on Wander to Biggs, who was the one stealing drugs from the department's evidence room.

To execute Ludlow, Santos and Demille take him out to the house where the bodies of the real Fremont and Coates are, but he manages to break free and kill them both. He then heads to Washington's where he finds Sergeant Mike Clady searching for the surveillance footage. Ludlow subdues Clady before he can kill Washington's widowed wife, then places him in his car trunk.

Ludlow confronts Wander at his house and apprehends him after a brawl. He confesses that he has incriminating evidence against several high-ranking department officials and other politicians, with which he would have used to become LAPD chief and eventually, mayor. Wander, asserting that he is Ludlow's friend and mentor, attempts to bribe him with a large amount of money and incriminating documents, but Ludlow refuses and shoots him dead.

Later, Captain Biggs and Sergeant Green arrive, and Biggs reveals that they used him to bring down Wander and get access to his files by showing him the real corruption within his unit. Biggs offers Ludlow an alibi. As he leaves, Biggs tells him that the department does still need him.



In 1997, David Fincher had entered negotiations to direct the film, under its original title The Night Watchman from a screenplay by James Ellroy for New Regency and Warner Bros.[3]

In 2004, it was announced that Spike Lee would be directing the film for a 2005 release.[4] In 2005, it was announced that Oliver Stone was in talks to direct the film.[5] However, Stone later denied this.[6] Training Day screenwriter David Ayer took over the project.

On February 5, 2008, it was announced that Fox Searchlight Pictures changed the film's title from The Night Watchman to Street Kings.[7]


Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes 36% of 152 reviews of the film are positive with average rating of 5.11/10. The site's consensus reads, "Street Kings contains formulaic violence but no shred of intelligence."[8] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 55 out of 100 based on 28 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[9]

Box office[edit]

In its opening weekend, the film grossed $12.5 million from 2,467 theaters, finishing second at the box office. It went on to gross $26.4 million domestically and $39.2 million internationally for a total of $65.6 million.[10]

Home media[edit]

The DVD was released on August 19, 2008, as a single-disc offering with director commentary, and 2-disc special-edition set with numerous documentaries, interviews and a digital copy of the film. It is also available on Blu-ray disc with all the special features of the 2-disc DVD version. By January 2009, the film had made $14.6 million from DVD sales.[2]


The film is followed by a sequel, Street Kings 2: Motor City, released direct-to-video in 2011. Other than both featuring Clifton Powell (playing different roles), the films are unrelated.


  1. ^ a b "Street Kings". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Street Kings (2008) - Financial Information". The-numbers.com. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  3. ^ Flemming, Michael (November 10, 1997). "Fincher mulls 'Night' cap". Variety. Retrieved May 1, 2023.
  4. ^ "The Night Watchman Movie - Keanu Reeves to Star in The Night Watchman (Street Kings)". Movies.about.com. 2004-11-16. Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  5. ^ "The Night Watchman Movie - Oliver Stone May Direct The Night Watchman (Street Kings)". Movies.about.com. 2005-04-25. Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  6. ^ "IGN: Stone Denies Night Watchman". IGN. Archived from the original on May 25, 2005. Retrieved 2022-01-18.
  7. ^ "The Night Watchman Retitled to Street Kings". ComingSoon.net. 2008-02-05. Retrieved 2022-01-18.
  8. ^ "Street Kings". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  9. ^ "Street Kings (2008): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2014-10-25.
  10. ^ "Street Kings (2008) - Weekend Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved 2008-08-01.

External links[edit]