Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
United Kingdom/USA, 1991. Palace Pictures, Miramax. Screenplay by John Toles-Bey, Bobby Crawford, based on the novel by Chester Himes. Cinematography by Toyomichi Kurita. Produced by Kerry Rock, Stephen Woolley. Music by Elmer Bernstein, Jeff Vincent. Production Design by Steven Legler. Costume Design by Nele Samples. Film Editing by Curtiss Clayton. Cannes Film Festival 1991.
A magnificent shoot-out in mid-fifties Mississippi ends with dead bodies everywhere, the one survivor a gorgeous femme fatale (Robin Givens) who makes away with the loot, a trunk full of gold ore. She heads to Manhattan where she shacks up with a shy, awkward undertaker (Forest Whitaker) and tries to lay low until she can make her next move. Men from her past show up and pretty soon Whitaker, who has fallen in obsessive love with her, is recruiting his underworld stepbrother (Gregory Hines) to help him rescue his beloved maiden. A host of characters and constant shifts in the plot are handled with effortless strength by actor and director Bill Duke, who maintains a sharp pace and a great deal of dramatic, violent and sexual excitement throughout this film noir update that is as delightful as it is intense. The cast is impressive, Danny Glover as the Harlem kingpin a standout, while Hines is a star in a role that steals the film; on the flipside, it’s one of the best examples of how distracting Whitaker is when he turns the crank up high on his overwrought mannerisms. You can see the wheels turning throughout his entire, dishonest performance, from the self-consciously nerdy voice right down to his carefully selected spectacles, making him stand out that much more from the genuinely convincing gangster characters who seem to have time traveled from the fifties. Given that Whitaker’s character is meant to be a constant nuisance, however, it’s possible that this is to the film’s credit. Either way it’s a superb action film and well worth the watch.