Friday, February 13, 2015

Before I Die #537: The King of New York (1990)

This is the 537th that I've watched of the 1,162 films suggested on the "Before You Die" list that I am gradually working through.

Director: Abel Ferrara

Everything you would hope for, once you read the synopsis and the see the cast.

The King of New York stars Christopher Walken as Frank White, a boss of the New York criminal underworld who is just being released from prison after several years inside. Once out, White immediately starts to make moves against his competition, in order to regain control of the drug trafficking on the streets. While equally ruthless and brutal as other bosses, two things set Frank apart from the rest: he employs many African-American gangsters into his crew; and he has aspirations to use his considerable finances and muscle to improve the poor neighborhoods in his area.

The movie features all of the gang violence and excitement that you would expect and perhaps desire in such a movie made in 1990. As Frank White moves against the Italian mafia and the Chinese mob, he stops at nothing to get what he wants, including bald-faced public executions and massacres. These scenes provide plenty of gunfire and action, to be sure. However, the strength of the movie comes much more from the slower, one-on-one interactions that White has with others, whether they be city District Attorneys, mafia dons, or even his own henchmen. Through these exchanges, we ge to see a much more complicated and unhinged man.

Laurence Fishburn as Jimmy Jump. Next
to Walken's Frank White, Fishburn turns
in the most memorable performance as
the motormouthed, buck-wild trigger man.
It's these latter elements that seemingly set The King of New York apart from others of its ilk. White would appear, in the early parts of the movie, to be a fairly typical "wild man" criminal. Rather soon after his release, we learn that he is behind two brutal killings of rivals, and then we soon see him brazenly execute another, first-hand. Still, we also hear White genuinly explain how he wants to improve the conditions of the most run-down areas in New York City's slums. He even seems to have the grand delusion of becoming mayor. There's an odd yet somehow authentic compassion for the downtrodden in White that inspires loyalty in most of his followers, many of whom are from disenfranchised groups like African-Americans.

The story itself is interesting, though hardly novel. What makes this movie far more gripping are the performances of the tremendous cast. There are plenty of known quantities - Walken, Laurence Fishburn, Wesley Snipes, and more. But there are plenty of other recognizable, if not exactly A-list, actors who accent the movie incredibly well.

What a viewer comes away with is the crazy violence, which is probably why the movie has a strong following among the same loyalists to movies like Brian DePalma's Scarface (which, to me, lost its luster over the years). The torrent of bullets and memorable smart-aleck, tough-guy one-liners leaves an impression. While there is certainly more to the movie, the time given to bloodletting can drown out the more thoughtful elements.

It's a good flick, but not one that I'll feel the need to see again.

That's 537 movies seen. Only 625 more to see before I can die...