film reel image

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Clockers 1995 * * * Stars

Picture is of the movie poster for the Spike Lee film Clockers
Director: Spike Lee
Year: 1995
Rating: R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Mekhi Phifer, Delroy Lindo

In the fall of 1995, I found myself in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan (on a weekend leave from college) highly anticipating the newest Spike Lee film. Later that night, I viewed it in a large cineplex with possibly 20-25 screens. There were other action films, comedies, and dramas that I could have chosen from, but I had to see Lee's latest outing. He was a controversial director back then and still reins as one today. In the 90's, his films were a bit more mainstream than they are now. To me, they were like events. And after watching the trailer for Clockers, I knew I had to get to a viewing on opening night. Slightly disjointed, messy at times, yet totally absorbing, Clockers remains one of Spike Lee's most interesting and most forceful cinematic feats. It holds a varied cast of actors known and unknown (I'm just speculating but I think a lot of the people on screen were plucked off the street without any acting experience thus adding to the film's realism), a plethora of varied styles of directing, a fantastic opening credit sequence, and a massive need to get its message across. With most of Spike's films, you generally see a sort of sporadic narrative. Clockers has this but it still manages to be a solid helping from the Brooklyn-rooted director.  

Produced by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese and based on a novel of the same name by Richard Price (he wrote the screenplay as well), Clockers tells the story of a small-time drug dealer named Ronald "Strike" Dunham (played by Mekhi Phifer who at the time, had never acted in a film before and got picked out of 1,000 people in an open casting call). He works with a bunch of other fellow dealers who are labeled "Clockers" (they are basically 24 hour drug pushers). When "Strike's" brother Victor Dunham (played by Isaiah Washington) is accused and confesses (in self defense) to murdering one of "Strike's" rival dealers working at a fast food restaurant, "Strike" is then somehow caught up in the whole investigation. He's pulled in different directions and has to take sides. This is based on his relentless pursuers being a morally concerned cop named Rocco Klein (played by Harvey Keitel who gives a Harvey Keitel-like performance) and a parasitic drug lord named Rodney Little (Oscar caliber stuff from Delroy Lindo). A couple of things to note about this film: The acting by the entire cast down to the bit players, the supporting players, and the leads is sensational in every way. Second: The drug solicitation scenes that are featured at various intervals are disturbingly real and authentic. As you view them, it feels less like you're watching a movie and more like you're experiencing real life as it happens. 

Registering at a running time of just over 2 hours, it's safe to say that there is a lot of movie to take in with Clockers. This vehicle is a character study, a drug flick, and a murder mystery all in one. You have a meaty script by Richard Price (he wrote The Color of Money and Ransom), a searing musical score from Terrence Blanchard (he's Lee's right hand man when it comes to musical scores), and an extremely dark-hued look from cinematographer Malik Hassan Sayeed. In essence, Spike Lee has every resource possible to flex his directorial wings. This is in my mind, one of the strongest turns he has ever put in as a director. His technique is exuberant. You get a lot of slow motion scenes (set to music of course), a shot that pans over the view of one of the film's most pivotal moments (a protective murder of a burnt out drug addict by a young boy), some solid jump cuts (at the beginning during one of the drug deals), and high energy flashbacks that are quick and to the point. A lot of the film's best sequences are not only set to Blanchard's score, but also to a mixed pop soundtrack with songs from Seal, Crooklyn Dodgers, Chaka Khan, and Rebelz of Authority.

In conclusion, this is a heavy urban crime drama with powerfully realized, individual scenes. Clockers is no doubt, a solid interpretation of Lee's rather large body of work. He tries hard to be a good storyteller and sometimes slips a bit. But somehow someway, he still gets the job done here. The film's last ten minutes, which feel subdued, project a bit of a relief from all the chaos that came before it. They faithfully channel a feeling of radiant hope. This reassures the viewer that an exercise this depressing and melodic, can still end on a positive note. With that said, Clockers for me, was definitely worth a re-viewing. It's a Spike Lee Joint that "clocks in" as something I would wholeheartedly recommend.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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