Monday, 4 August 2014

King of New York (1990)

Mob boss Frank White walks out of jail and declares war on every other gang in the city.  As you might imagine, this spree of violence upsets the other members of the underworld, as well as the NYPD.

But Frank's onslaught is not merely an attempt to control all vice in the city.  Because while his time in prison did not reform him, it did give him something of an epiphany: he wants to make money from the rich so he can provide better hospitals and schools to the poor boroughs of New York (as well as maintaining his own lavish lifestyle of course; like I said, he's not reformed).

The film doesn't spend a lot of time justifying or explaining Frank's altruistic impulses.  It just establishes that they exist and lets the bullets fly.  It's interesting to see how easy it is to make us root for the man who wants to run the city's narcotics trade.  Even when a group of cops decides to take the law into their own hands and gun Frank down, it's the mob boss and his right hand man (a stellar performance from Lawrence Fishburne) that you root for.

This is a very stylish film.  There's a lot of interesting use of colour; several scenes are drenched in one particular shade, whether it be green or yellow or blue, with only black as a contrast to the dominant hue.  I've only seen one Abel Ferrara film before - the 1993 version of Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, which was quite good - but based on this film I'd certainly be willing to check out more.  The cast is uniformly good.  Fishburne is the stand-out, as mentioned above, but you never go wrong with Walken, and I don't think there's a weak link to be found here among the on-screen talent.

This is a fairly bleak film, what with it making you root for someone who is still a bad guy, and with the general lack of unblemished morals on either side of the law.  And there's a lot of violence and bad language.  So it won't be to all tastes.  But if you like your films very hard-boiled, it's a good egg.

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