Arts

'Spinners’: Gangsters, murder and five friends with a car

spinners

Spinners. PHOTO | POOL

South Africa holds more intrigue beyond amapiano and its political drama starring Julius Malema. One captivating aspect is their accent, possibly thanks to Trevor Noah’s application of the accent in his comedy.

Whenever I hear a South African accent, it brings a smile to my face. That's why I had a great time and found myself laughing when viewing Spinners, a crime, drama and action eight-episode series on Showmax.

Surprisingly, even during serious dramatic scenes with subtitles and all, the accent made me chuckle involuntarily or sometimes flat out laugh out loud.

The show manages to seamlessly blend English, Afrikaans, and Afrikaaps, creating an authentic portrayal of South Africa. Additionally, it authentically captures gang-related crime, which forms the core of our discussion today.

Spinners

The show’s producers might have opted for a standard approach, focusing solely on the spinning culture without investing in character development.

On the surface, it might seem like a familiar story, but this series surpasses the stereotype of exuberant youngsters engaging in daring car stunts.

They do a very good job of ensuring that we clearly understand where the young man behind the wheel is coming from.

Read: Sly, a documentary exploring Stallone as the son and Rocky as his anchor

The story

Ethan is a good kid born on the wrong side of town. In Cape Town’s slums where local gangs make the law, he is soon left with no choice but to work for one of them to support himself and his younger brother.

Caught in a web of crime, he discovers he has an incredible talent for spinning, an exciting and extreme motorsport. Could this be his way out from the violent criminal life that seems to be the only option to survive in his neighbourhood?

What is spinning?

If you’re familiar with South African car culture, you’ve likely come across the phenomenon known as “spinning”. This recognised motorsport involves car stunts. You might have seen footage on YouTube of cars drifting in circles, with drivers hanging out or atop the cars amid billowing tire smoke, culminating in dramatic tire explosions, yeah, that’s basically it.

For a more comprehensive insight into this culture, there’s Inside Spinners documentary available on Showmax that delves into its entirety. While spinning is integrated into the narrative, the show primarily revolves around intense drama within a community run by gangsters. Picture guns, individuals clad in black leather jackets, a deceased person in a car trunk submerged in a lake. Consider detectives going to great lengths to achieve their goals and the sacrifices a 17-year-old makes to care for a younger sibling after being abandoned by a drug-addicted mother.

What worked

This show stands out for getting consequences right—every action has a ripple effect and the writing ensures that each character’s action has repercussions.

This series is brutal at times, relentless, gritty, and laced with moments of high-octane excitement, occasionally flavoured with spinning. Each episode maintains a high-paced tempo, keeping your heart racing without relying solely on the automotive aspect.

One of the immediate highlights is the inventive treatment of the opening title card which intricately links to a single character as it transitions to the opening—a creative touch that resonates, particularly for someone appreciative of creativity.

The first episode sets the stage brilliantly, introducing the central inciting incident and characters, immersing you into the protagonist’s multi-faceted life from responsible sibling to his side/main hustle. While the sudden demise of a character with Down syndrome is shocking, it effectively sets up the primary antagonist and the high stakes for every misstep by anyone around him.

Speaking of the antagonist, the gang leader has an intriguing arc that occasionally challenges viewers to empathise with him.

The leader feels like something from the mafia movies only smarter, focused and calculating.

The scenes are well-framed with lighting that perfectly suits the tone of each scene. The show’s director is a cinematographer and that is evident with the general overall bright look of the series and the creative use of light.

The production values seamlessly complement an undoubtedly compelling storyline, focusing keenly on meticulous character details. Despite its automotive backdrop, the series focuses on the human struggles faced by its characters.

By struggle I mean for example, Ethan (the protagonist) doesn’t get a break, the writer takes the kid through hell. I mean this is just a show but damn! It’s like the showrunners primary briefs was, “make Ethan suffer in the worst way possible”.

Beyond the primary characters, the show excels in giving even the minor ones, such as David and Shane, their own arcs, elevating the overall narrative. The consistent tension and intensity across episodes, despite following a single storyline, stem from the writers’ subverting the audience's expectations, keeping them engaged —especially in the climactic final episode.

Ethan convincingly embodies the struggles of a 17-year-old entangled with ruthless yet captivating gangsters. Other characters, notably the two lead detectives, blur the lines between good and evil consistently. While all performances are noteworthy, the stunts and execution of the spinning scenes and the editing create an illusion that the actors are seasoned experts.

Two minor yet impactful elements stood out—the realistic portrayal of facial injuries post-assault, notably with Ethan and another police character, and the depiction of the love interest, not just as a pretty face but as a character, whose arc is integral to the finale.

Most significantly, the show manages to ground a gangster narrative in the values of family and friendship, with occasional nods to the spinning culture. The final episode culminates in a fantastic closing frame that’s sure to leave a smile on some people’s faces.

Nitpicks

I’ve never been a big fan of (insert Jamaican accent) “sufferation” movies or shows. Although they often portray genuine struggles, they sometimes feel like a mere gateway to drama and predictability story tropes. Moreover, the recurring theme of a troubled youth finding solace in talents (usually football or dance) feels quite familiar.

The use of music to heighten certain scenes, particularly during action sequences or car chases, didn’t quite resonate with me. I felt that allowing the raw chaos of those moments, such as the forest shootout in episode five, to unfold naturally could have been more impactful.

Essentially, this show seems focused on sensitising young audiences to the dangers associated with crime and involvement in gang violence.I mean as a graphic designer, I envisioned David’ face on a poster in prison attire, staring directly at the audience. Bold letters underneath reading, “Kids, avoid joining a gang or face my fate”.

Read: Killers of the Flower Moon: Martin Scorsese's latest work of love, oil, greed and murder

Conclusion

Spinners is an excellently crafted production worth savouring rather than binge-watching. With episodes averaging 53 minutes, Showmax’s decision to release them weekly is fitting for the intense narrative. Despite a familiar storyline, the show’s writing, direction, and performances offer a unique and strong perspective on gang culture in South Africa.

It skillfully explores themes of family, friendship, and fatherhood without losing focus on the spinning culture and the core story, which is keeping Ethan alive, making it a well-executed story that will leave you examining the people around you. The show is streaming on Showmax.

[email protected]

X: @stanslausmanthi