Havoc (Barbara Kopple, 2005)
The plot is not unfamiliar: Bored rich kids faking it out by pumping it up with the ghetto accent, the gang culture and the hip hop wardrobe. Barbara Kopple's Havoc is your everyday urban drama that dissects the huge divide between the privileged rich and the stratified poor by having members of both classes interact in the most surprising of ways. Havoc seems to be more interested in the lifestyle of the rich kids of the Palasade. Kopple portrays the Latino gang of downtown L.A. as merely a necessary element of the film --- an alien culture whose allure is excitement in danger. Hints of characterizations for the Latino gang members are kept to a minimum, while the faux trappings of the rich kids are put into spotlight, creating a curiously imbalanced film which seems to draw more from fantasy than reality, despite the fact that the events in the film might really happen.
Allison (Anna Hathaway) is part of a Palasades gang with her boyfriend Toby (Mike Vogel), friend Emily (Bijou Phillips), and Emily's boyfriend Sam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The gang is the typical Caucasian rich kid gang. They cruise the more affluent portions of Los Angeles in their richly adorned vehicles, picking up fights with rival gangs in the night, but being perfect students by day. In one of the gang's cruises, they decide to go to downtown L.A. to buy some drugs from the real gangs who reside there. Allison gets attracted to the Latino gang and gets herself acquainted with one of the members, Hector (Freddy Rodriguez) leading to tragic results.
Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple directs the film with assured professionalism. The film is edited briskly and the cinematography is quite clear in differentiating the sunny coolness of the Palasades and the gritty grimy yet tempting allure of downtown Los Angeles. Kopple makes it a point to show the two worlds as completely different and that when the Palasades kids find themselves downtown, it's like they're in a different country despite the fact that downtown L.A. is just less than an hour away from their affluent residences. It's the same with the Latino gang. In a later scene, two Latinos find themselves in Bel-air and while they know the narrow alleyways of downtown like the palm of their hands, affluent White Los Angeles is an utterly different world, where they aren't treated as Americans, but as dangerous elements. The obvious differences fleshed out by Kopple provides for interesting class commentary, but in a way, is a bit overdone.
Written by Stephen Gaghan, who continues off the story provided by Jessica Kaplan (she died from an airplane crash before the film finished), Havoc may be criticized as unrealistic and such criticism isn't entirely false. I would never get it why Allison suddenly decides to try to go with the Latino gang ---- boredom, sure, but that's not enough justification to carry on the bulk of a film. The film hints of an attraction by Allison to Hector but that isn't really fleshed out. The primary justification is always the idea that Allison seems to be so tired of her Palasades life that she seeks something rawer, more real, but eventually gets disappointed when she got herself into something that is bigger than what she can actually chew.
The film throws in an unnecessary character, a documentary filmmaker Eric (Matt O'Leary) who seems to be interested as to how the Palasades gang works. He goes around filming the fights, interviews the gang members but as to why he's part of the film, I can never fathom. It's probably Kopple trying to pump up her themes of social reality and how kids hide in a facade of toughness and how film can never really show the truth behind the facades these kids.