Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 1995. Universal Pictures, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks. Screenplay by Richard Price, Spike Lee, based on the book by Richard Price. Cinematography by Malik Hassan Sayeed. Produced by Jon Kilik, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese. Music by Terence Blanchard. Production Design by Andrew McAlpine. Costume Design by Ruth E. Carter. Film Editing by Samuel D. Pollard.
More in-your-face excellence from Spike Lee, whose adaptation of Richard Price’s novel about drug dealing on the streets of New York has its good and bad points. It focuses on the life of Strike (Mekhi Phifer in his film debut), a punk who deals drugs in the park near his home in Brooklyn for a ruthless kingpin (Delroy Lindo in a standout performance). When a fast food employee is murdered on the street outside his restaurant and Strike’s clean-living brother (Isaiah Washington) confesses to the crime, police detectives Harvey Keitel and John Turturro are immediately convinced that he is taking the rap for his much more hopeless brother. From there the film spirals out of control as it pursues the murder mystery but also indulges in character explorations of the many ways a person can find to destroy themselves in this very unhappy world. The acting is mostly good, though Phifer is still too green for the lead and is the weakest link in the cast; the dialogue is superb, but too many times Lee goes in to tangents that overstate many of the film’s lessons and, while it’s as visually striking as his best films, it feels too long.