Written by TV's Les Blair, Jump The Gun is an enlightening look at post-apartheid South Africa, tracing the fortunes of six pleasingly disparate characters. Two of them, Clint (Lionel Newton) and Gugu (Baby Cele), are recent arrivals to Jo'burg, a vibrant, often violent, city. For Clint, a white electrician who works on the oil rigs, the capital means rest and recreation - - booze and birds - - but the changes to what was once his home are startling: ""South Africa's getting very African"," he mutters as he stares out of a taxi window. In contrast, Gugu is black, ambitious, young, female - - she wants to embrace these changes. Fleeing from an abusive husband, she has her heart set on success as a singer and is willing to sleep with whoever it takes to get there.
As Blair's slow-burning twin narrative unfurls, the remaining characters cross Clint and Gugu's paths to fulfilment: Zoo (Thulani Nyembe), the disabled "businessman" who keeps a 9mm Beretta under the cushion of his wheelchair, and who becomes Gugu's lover; Thabo (Rapulana Seiphemo), a rival for Gugu's affections, and manager of the band she ends up joining; Minnie (Michele Burgers), the amusingly spaced-out hooker for whom Clint falls; and JJ, the bar owner whose establishment becomes a kind of crossroads for the story (specifically, the place where Clint and Gugu eventually meet).
Episodic, unfocused and lacking a good ending, Jump The Gun ought to have been a mess. Instead it's an absorbing and insightful piece that grips the attention and refuses to let go. This is thanks to an excellent South African cast (Newton and Burgers are particular stand-outs) and a fascinating, evocative portrait of a newly formed society still plagued by violence. With a stronger storyline focusing on fewer characters, this could have been something exceptional. Nevertheless, with undoubtedly more, possibly better, films about the new South Africa to come, this at least whets the appetite.
An intriguing, if rather flawed take on the new South Africa, with cracking performances from a cast of relative unknowns. Blair tackles his subject matter sensitively and with vision, but Jump The Gun lacks the fiery spark that's needed to catch the wider, multiplex eye.
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