An undercover state cop who has infiltrated an Irish gang and a mole in the police force working for the same mob race to track down and identify each other before being exposed to the enemy, after both sides realize their outfit has a rat.
Strike is a young city drug pusher under the tutelage of drug-lord Rodney Little, who, when not playing with model trains or drinking Moo for his ulcer, just likes to chill with his brothers near the benches outside the project houses. When a night man at a fast-food restaurant is found with four bullets in his body, Strike's older brother turns himself in as the killer. Det. Rocco Klein doesn't buy the story, however, and sets out to find the truth, and it seems that all the fingers point toward Strike & Rodney. Written by
Michael Silva <email@example.com>
Strike (Phifer) works as a drug runner (clocker) in a NY ghetto for dealer Rodney (Delroy Lindo). When someone kills one of Rodney's enemies Detective Klein (Keitel) investigates. Strike's brother Victor (Washington) confesses but suspicion points to Strike. Klein suspects that Victor is covering for his brother and begins to put the heat on Strike for more information.
The main plot is a form of crime thriller, with Keitel playing the cop trying to uncover the truth behind the murder. However the plot is not what this film is about - this is basically a film about the effects on drugs on the NY ghettos. Strike is the "average black man", while his protégé, Tyrone (Peewee Love) is "black youth". The film tries to show the forces placed on them by their situation, their role models and the few options they have in life. Rodney represents the draw of selling drugs, of quick money while policemen Andre (Keith David) and Klein represent his conscience trying to get him to do the right thing - Andre and Tyrone's mother (Regina Taylor) particularly doing right by your own community.
The message is at times forced, Keitel's sequence towards the end is very clever cinematically but feels a bit like a sermon, but at other times we're allowed to work it out ourselves. Strike is not judged but allowed to be pulled by the situation around him, his sickness representing the sickness of his situation. Through him we see the pressures that are on him to act like his peers and the bad role-models he has in his life. In Shorty we see the same things affect the next generation and, while his aping of Strike is clumsy, you again see how the lack of good role-models reduces the options for an otherwise intelligent kid. The best thing about the comparison of Lindo and Keitel is that neither is judged - both are allowed to show themselves as appealing, Lindo appears as a parent, almost seeking the best for all his workers and Keitel is allowed to be an honest cop with a good moral code. However both are also seen in a bad light, Lindo brings out the violence, pressure and treachery of his character - a man who is really out for himself while the way Keitel pressures Strike is seen as bad as Rodney's pressure and reveals a racist angry streak within himself. We are left wondering how anyone can survive between the two.
Phifer is good as Strike and manages to avoid just doing a ghetto-movie type of performance, he makes you believe that he is trapped in a no-win situation. Isaiah Washington gives another in a string of strong performances as the honest man trying to get by. Lindo is great as drug dealer Rodney, mixing paternal aspirations with moments of sudden viciousness. Keitel and John Turturro act below their station and aren't given much to work with, Keitel especially doesn't always manage to carry the moral core of the story without preaching. Two small roles of interest are Tom Byrd as Errol who has plays the fallen dealer with AIDS, however not enough is explained about his character, also Michael Imperioli (better known as Chris in The Sopranos) plays bent cop Jo-Jo. Peewee Love stands out as Shorty/Shorty, sucked into a world that lacks choice.
The film looks great, the whole thing has a bright colourful sheen on it that is very attractive to look at. Combined with Lee's stylish director it makes for a beautiful film - although some scenes are shot differently and on different stock, to make a point, although I'm not sure what that point is. The music is as good as most of Lee's movies, a mix of soul and hip hop, it is better than many ghetto films that just assume that the hip hop is all that's needed to help the mood.
This is a good example of the lack of options that exist in the ghetto and, besides some very obvious preaching, it makes it's point without shouting it at the audience. The only failing is that Lee bottles it near the end, delivering a sentimental ending of hope that is unfortunately not the truth in many cases.
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