The opening scene of “Wild is the Wind” is a routine traffic stop that is anything but routine.
A sketchy-looking speeder has been pulled overon a lonely road somewhere on the Veldt. Two South African cops — one white, one black — are taking care of this. Money changes hands, and a fervent promise to never speed again is given in exchange.
The black cop pockets his share of the money as the ancient Datsun leaves. When we see the smirking driver, we also see what the cop had to have seen, a bound and gagged black woman in the back seat. Apparently that didn’t matter. Both men in blue have let money get between them and justice, between them and doing the bare minimum in “Protect and Serve” terms.
This could be good, we think. Pointed and timely. Or not.
Writer-director Fabian Medea’s film then proceeds to tell us and teach them the consequences of racism and the corruption it leads to when it infects law enforcement. Because “three years later,” a pretty white teenager disappears. She’s the mayor’s niece, so there’ll be “hell to pay” if the killer isn’t caught.
White South Africa is sure the killer was “some kaffir” from “the township.” But these two dirty cops — well, one of them most certainly — know better.
Mothusi Magano is Vusi, the black sergeant in that duo, married with a baby on the way. Frank Rautenbach is John, his superintendent and expert in the one thing law enforcement the world over is most expert in — knowing what he and they can get away with. That’ll come in handy as he needs money just as badly as Vusi. He’s trying to save the family ranch.
They’ve moved on from petty bribes to carrying out off-the-books drug raids. Local mobster/club owner Mongo (Brendon Daniels) will always take the merchandise off their hands.
But now there’s this murder investigation that could muck everything up. For Vusi, who has nightmares about the killer he is sure he let go for a few South African rand years before, it’s also a reckoning, his moment of truth.
Medea’s police parable benefits from striking locations, solid performances and a built-in ticking clock. Can the two cops serve two masters, and keep their corruption out of the public eye while scrambling to solve or appear to solve this case before racial tensions explode? Are they “brothers” in blue, or does race trump that? They’ll have to visit a bar with Nazi decor, grill and beat this suspect and then than one.
On the sliding “brisk” to “tediously slow” scale of screen pacing, “Wild is the Wind” sits somewhere between “deliberate” and “get ON with it, man.” It’s slow. It dawdles, with the odd dead-end scene mixed in with scripted character back stories and details from what happened “that night” from various suspects’ point of view.
We’ve seen the opening scene. We know who did it. So does Vusi. His nightmares underscore this, and the fact that he’s damned if he does the right thing for once, damned if he doesn’t.
Medea doesn’t do a very good job of running through the calculations the cops have to be making about this case, their financial situation and conflicting loyalties. Medea handles the murderous subject matter glibly at times and can’t reconcile the moral quicksand his characters slow-walk through, no matter how far towards “simple vengeance tale” he takes this.
This was potentially a timely, politically-charged thriller sure to pack a punch. Blows are landed, and characters are triggered. We get a sense of how an integrated police force struggles to deliver justice when haste and bribes and deep-seeded racism convince this black cop or that black coroner that “justice” has never been the way things work there.
As this tame “Wind” meanders towards whatever inevitable conclusion among the three we can see coming long before the finale, all we’re left with is what might have been.
Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, profanity, drug and alcohol abuse
Cast: Mothusi Magano, Frank Rautenbach, Brendon Daniels and Izel Bezuidenhout
Credits: Scripted and directed by Fabian Medea. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:03