King of New York (Italy/USA, 1990)

king_of_new_york_ver1Directed by: Abel Ferrara. First thing’s last—Christopher Walken in a lead role! You don’t get to see that too often. And I’m always interested in different variations of the gangster genre, and I’m always interested in different depictions of New York in cinema, especially the pre-Giuliani days, the rough 70’s and 80’s. Before this, when I thought of New York in the 80’s, I mostly thought of Scrooged. So now, I’ll also think of Laurence Fishburne in hammer pants. What a movie! It’s not like this is an amazing movie or anything (it isn’t). But it’s such a great idea for a movie—stuff Christopher Walken, and Laurence (still Larry) Fishburne, and Wesley Snipes, and the incredible Victor Argo (Saint Peter from Last Temptation),  and the incredible Giancarlo Esposito (Gus from Breaking Bad), and even Steve Buscemi for a minute, all under one roof, and let them play cops and robbers. To me that’s a great recipe, even though it didn’t do well with the critics at the time. Frankly, I’m not surprised this one was a mis-fire at the time: the whole thing just feels kind of loose, you know? Like the characters, the plot, the whole thing could have been tightened up a bit. If I had to put my finger on it, I’d say there’s too many characters, too much time given to all the different crooked cops and all the different low-level gangsters, and not enough time spent on the core of the film—the crime boss Chris Walken, getting out of jail, establishing himself in the New York upper class, trying to have his cake and eat it too, trying to be a legit politician and continue being a crime boss, with tragic consequences. Like Stringer Bell in The Wire. But this movie doesn’t spend enough time on that stuff, it all feels pretty rushed, and Walken’s character still feels sketched-in by the end, we still don’t really know what’s going on with him. To be uncharitably brief—this movie needs more Victor Argo, less David Caruso. I’m a person who never really knew anything about Caruso, just that he was in a CSI show and everyone hated him. After this movie, I hate him too. And his character didn’t really contribute much. Sure, he was a fiery, hot-tempered cop. Fine! You got Wesley Snipes for god’s sake, use him more! But they had to dog pile that character type with so many extra layers, and give them each their own moment to shine in the final shoot-out. If it were up to me, I’d say less talk, more rock with the whole fucking movie. All of that being said, the fact that it’s so off-kilter and half-busted makes this a pretty unique movie, and there are those moments of serenity, perhaps down to Abel Ferrara (another guy with a big rep who I know nothing about ), that make this one a pretty memorable, non-disposable gangster movie.

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