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It angers me how overlooked this film is.
It is not an easy film. It is bleak and at times very off-putting. Actually, if you are a thinking, caring person, this is movie is overall heart-breaking.
But it is brilliant and, for the person who truly tries to understand it, a compelling, insightful look at the problems killing black America today. The only reason for the film's lack of recognition I can imagine is that its subject matter had been examined a number of times before. But the inescapable fact is that this one of the best examinations of the subject matter there has been on screen - on par with "Boyz N The Hood".
And it is FAR from uncreative. In fact, on one level, it is not a "hood" movie, but a whodunit. The mystery aspect of the plot is very interesting. But there are other, more important layers. It is the story of the confusion and crisis of a young man's life. Most importantly, it is a brutal look at drugs, guns, and life in the projects. It is a movie asking why so many young black men are dying in the streets.
The lead character Strike has a stomach problem. It might be an ulcer or something like that. I believe it is a metaphor. Just as heat represented racial tension in Lee's masterpiece "Do The Right Thing", Strike's sickness represents the illnesses plaguing the ghetto: drugs, guns, liquor.
Like DTRT, this film looks at community. The mothers, the cops, the young people, the kids, the men trying to make a living - there is eloquent commentary in "Clockers" on the situations of all. In Spike's movies, paying a little attention is rewarding. A good essay could be written on what I call the Spike Summarization technique. This is when Spike compresses a serious debate or concern in the black community into a few expressive moments of action or dialogue. There are better examples in other movies, but it manifests in "Clockers" a few times. A bunch of kids are sitting in front of Rodney's (Delroy Lindo) shop; one of the kids is rapping while the others pay attention. The two sides to the coin: we feel the artistry and skill of the moment, the continuation of a rich tradition of oral art; we're also struck by the cruelty and coldness in the kid's violent lyrics, and we think about where that comes from.
Stylistically, this movie is a huge success. The cinematography is amazing, and I wonder what must be wrong with my tastes when I'm floored by a film like this and find visually bland a more oft-praised classic. The projects become blinding panoramas, landscapes which add tons of meaning to the poignant ending (I won't reveal it here). The sound is great; many films of this nature use hip hop in the soundtrack to produce certain effects, but "Clockers" does it in a more methodical way which jars some people, but contributes to the film's meaning.
I could say more about the film, but I encourage you to just see it, along with the rest of Spike's oeuvre. He's not a perfect filmmaker, and some of his best films are marred by elements that don't work, but I feel his consistency in terms of delivering brilliance is not below most of the cinema's most celebrated auteurs.
When Spike Lee applies his formidable talents to a genre piece like Richard
Price's best selling drug noir novel, "Clockers," you might wonder what kind
of hybrid you'll get. Lee is justly famous for his incendiary agitprop
films of ideas which dissect race relations and urban living, sometimes at
the expense of cohesive storytelling; but working with source material as
thought provoking a novel as "Clockers," which is set in Lee's home base of
"Crooklyn," er, i mean Brooklyn, Spike finds the right mix of action, angst,
and intellectualism for his strengths to shine. "Clockers" are petty drug
dealers who work around the clock pushing their wares. When one turns up
dead and a stand up citizen steps up to take the fall, a homicide detective
begins unraveling the complex dynamics of life and dealing in the 'hood.
Lee gets his usual gritty street landscape to work with and Price gets a
director with a cinematic eye (thanks to standard Lee lens-er, Malik Hassan
Sayeed)and a playwright's heart. Central character brothers Isaiah
Washington and Mekhi Phifer (in his star making role) turn in complex
credible performances but are easily outshone by the astonishingly strong
acting out of Harvey Keitel, Delroy Lindo, Regina Taylor (who won awards for
her work here), Keith David, and Lee regulars John Turturro and Thomas Byrd.
Lindo is particularly impressive. This film may have been too gritty for
general audiences with its brutal depiction of urban violence and emotional
brutality. And it may have been a bit too stylized for the Saturday night
drive-in set wanting a brainless shoot 'em up; but for those interested in
quality film making on a hugely important issue that also functions as an
engaging who done it, Spike Lee does it up royal in this, perhaps Lee's
most, accessible film.
I've just finished this film and I thought it was excellent. I've never
read the book, and based on other people's comments it sounds like it
might be a hard book to adapt for the screen, what with it (apparently)
dealing with a lot of abstract issues. However, looking at this film
from the standpoint of having never read the book I thought the story
was brilliant, it engrossed me to the end. Mekhi Phifer was great, he
played the part well, personally I thought he conveyed a wide range of
emotions and all of them very well. There was some great character
development, especially on the part of Delroy Lindo (another great
Lee did a good job in his portrayal of the drug culture in the projects, as well as taking a look into the police's side of the story. The story interested me from the beginning and I didn't feel my interest waver once, in fact is grew steadily throughout the film. The images of dead bodies shown at the beginning made a strong starting point, and served as an immediate reminder that the themes dealt with in the film are occurring all the time.
On a side note, I thought the resemblance of Shorty's game 'Gansta' to today's GTA: San Andreas was pretty funny.
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
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.
Clockers refers to drug dealers who work around the clock on an organized
schedule. The movie takes place in no other city than New York, Spike
trademark as a director. Strike (Phiefer) is a clocker who works with his
friends in the park selling high potency drugs to neighborhood people,
under the command of Rodney, the drug dealer of the area. Rodney tells
Strike if he wants to get off the benches he should kill a man named
who is selling ounces and making lots of cash, Strike considers it, but
isn't a killer. That night Strike's brother Victor comes into the bar and
mentally upset and talks to Strike. A little later Daryl is killed by
gunshots, one in the leg, one in the head, one in the chest, and one
between his teeth. Spike Lee shows off the gritty urban street crime life
here perfectly. Harvey Keitel and John Turturro play homicide detectives
take the case, and the clockers are the main suspects.
Clockers is a surreal look at the drug buisness, friendship, descision making, and death in the city. This movie has a flawless cast, the clockers, the detectives, and Rodney and Harold the dealers are perfect. The script is great too, as it has suprises, good dialogue, action, and setting. The direction is almost perfect, especially the last scene with the train, Spike Lee is one of the most underrated directors ever. This movie is made to please, action lovers will find it interesting, and film buffs should find it fascinating! Keep an open mind from beginning to end and analyze ever scene with its content. Great movie 10/10
In 1995 I considered Spike Lee's gritty CLOCKERS one of the year's best
films; recently I spotted its video in a clearance bin and picked it up.
Upon re-viewing, I am struck again by its complexity. It is the first
drama to depict inner-city race relations with the intricacy such a
pervasive cultural issue demands. On the surface it resembles a whodunit,
but its main concern is how drugs and violence contaminate entire
communities, dramatized in the collapse of one African-American youth's
life. (He chokes up blood the way some of us sweat.) This process is
observed by a predominantly white police force that makes hollow attempts
keep order, and refuses to intervene with the community's gradual
Instead of characters with overt prejudices and plain racial allegiances-characters that are sterile symbols of bigotry rather than credible humans guilty of it-Lee gives us characters of casual racism. Most representative of this is Harvey Keitel's Rocco Klein, a white detective who cannot understand the culture surrounding him, which is a culture of narcotics, violence, and black-on-black crime. On his beat, drugs are less a problem than a lifestyle, murder resolves the tiniest of disagreements, and young mothers valiantly but vainly battle the influence young dealers have on their sons. Klein views the inner-city with contempt, but deep down he knows all the whores and dealers are human beings, too.
Klein is introduced at the scene of a homicide, where the police handle the gruesome death with a clinical sense of detachment, cracking bad jokes and asking the bloodied corpse questions. Is it just a job, or is it racism? For Klein, it's both: he needs the gallows humor to psychologically deal with this culture of depravity. What's fascinating about CLOCKERS is Lee's willingness-and guts-to present Klein, despite his prejudice, as the film's hero. Lee understands that casual racism is simply endemic and inescapable in American culture. What he appreciates is Klein's ability to transcend his own prejudice and finally do the right thing.
I tend to enjoy films like Clockers; films that open up ideas about
several things at once; films that make you think about the world in
which they're set, the people in which inhabit them and the choices
they must face some of which are unfortunate through being mandatory.
Spike Lee is no fool and a lot of his early work on recent viewings
seem to revolve around someone stuck in a situation that is a mere
result of their emotional drive and the world they are living in: She's
Gotta Have it; Jungle Fever and Clockers are good examples of
protagonists committing an action they really shouldn't have (and
probably didn't want to but buckled under either temptation or peer
pressure) and now must face the consequences. But these consequences
will affect more than merely the hero.
Lee does not hang around in presenting or perhaps delivering his subject matter as a whole. The thing that amazes me with Lee is that he can write so many different types of characters: low grade African-Americans, educated and seemingly decent African-Americans; white cops; women of different ethnicity and a few others. In Clockers, the opening scene which integrates with the credits is of a somewhat crude and humiliating public autopsy during which a couple of white cops examine a dead black man in front of a watching black crowd. Two of these detectives are Rocco Klein (Keitel) and Larry Mazilli (Turturro) but the scene acts as one final act of humiliation to an already dead black man as they search his carcase for clues and bullet holes.
But the film has more than one current flowing throughout it. Strike (Phifer) plays a neighbourhood African-American who speaks and acts just like all his drug dealing friends, even hanging with them when they act out their drug selling routine to customers in a staged manner. But Strike is different and Lee wants us to create an alternate profile of the man by giving him milkshakes to drinks and trains to collect, set up in his apartment, maintain and run. The others laugh at this hobby but Strike maintains most of them too have hobbies: collecting welfare cheques. But this is the greatness of a character like Strike; we are led to believe he is a bad influence through the dialogue of a police man named Andre the Giant (David) but this is perhaps just another cop's point of view and opinion on another African American kid.
Andre believes Strike to be a bad influence on Tyrone (Love) but what Andre fails to notice is that there are higher, more criminal minds badly influencing Strike and that is more of a problem than Strike talking to Tyrone. The film is about a seemingly nice and somewhat moral 'gangstar' who is put in a situation where murder is the only way out, and we go through the narrative with the emphasis on this moral gangstar that he is actually a cold blooded killer in an excellent and very effective piece of atmosphere. But this is a slow burner and it slowly burns away at our opinion because there is a scene in Strike's apartment when he talks to Tyrone all about drugs and guns, apparently Tyrone should stay away from taking drugs but selling them will bring him a nice chunk of change; however guns are something that Tyrone should seriously consider getting into. To top this scene off, Tyrone is told that mathematics is also a very good thing. Already, Lee is trying to manipulate and force us to change out minds as to weather we like Strike. Is he a killer? Does he know drugs should be completely avoided? Why does he suggest Tyrone get a gun one day? Or is it just a misguided fool repeating what he once heard and saying what he thinks is right. Interesting how later on Tyrone repeats train information to another person after sort of adopting a 'Strike' figure.
But the film has some more strong points. Rodney Little (Lindo) thinks that just because he has had a shotgun in the mouth and was manipulated into murder, he can do it to others. Little himself asks Strike "How are you so smart and so stupid?" in a scene that actually has someone echo Strike's personality to his face. Little's background in presented in a nasty and somewhat disturbing fashion via flashback to the days when he was younger with Errol Barnes (Byrd), the resident 'hood psychopath-come-criminal who seems to have some distorted views to do with religion. With all this in the melting plot, it's no wonder the film does a good job in maintain interest and quality delivery. Lee does not fail to focus on his subject matter like he does in Summer of Sam when tackling the psychological development of a serial killer and a love triangle at the same time became messy. Instead, he does not get sidetracked with any unnecessary sub-plots and keeps the delivery sharp, realistic and intriguing when the final act comes to an end.
This movie is very misunderstood. I've heard people call it stereotypical, but this is only because they missed the obvious. The stereotypical aspect people see is all part of the story. The white police stereotypically harassing the street dealers is only stereotypical because society so commonly commits the very same actions. The movie is all about blame, who society blames, who society would like to blame, and sometimes whomever can be blamed. In actuality the movie has an extremely tense message about accepting ones own blame, while all throughout the movie blame is wrongly placed on nearly everyone. To avoid spoiling the movie I won't be overly specific but by the end of the movie Spike Lee had painted Injustice onto the screen.
Spike Lee's urban drama about a drugpusher who the police become suspicious towards after a man is found with 4 bullets in him in their neighborhood. This is a good early film from Spike Lee, he later built on this film's theme with much better films in He Got Game and The 25th Hour. But this one was also solid, with some very good performances and certain very good scenes. The screenplay was pretty good, based on Price's own book, and i liked Phifer, Turturro and Keitel a lot in this. Good cinematography from Malik Hassan Sayeed and editing from Smuael D. Pollard. Terence Blanchard's score is also not bad. overall a solid mid 90s film from Spike Lee.--- IMDb Rating: 6.8, my rating: 8/10
I was glad to see on the special edition DVD of Spike Lee's Do the
Right Thing to see how he answered the question asked at Cannes as to
why there weren't drugs portrayed in the film; his answer, simply, was
that there wasn't enough space dramatically, that it would be too much
to fit drugs into a story already loaded with racism in a small
neighborhood. But, as he followed, he could use what it means to have
drugs in an urban environment, and what it does to the people, and have
that as a stand-alone movie. He followed this up, in part, with the
Samuel L. Jackson storyline in Jungle Fever, and thanks to Richard
Price's novel and original script, he has here what might be his answer
to that question. It's not a very great movie, perhaps, because by this
time Spike Lee has so much invested in the style of his cinematic
theatrics, of how the nature of the camera itself related to those of
the characters, that it comes close to going over substance. But it's
is a worthy attempt at putting into context, via the conventions of
genre going back to the 40s, as to what makes or breaks the ties
between drug dealers and their workers, and how the workers (or
'Clockers' as per the title of the movie) go about their business in
Clockers has a main plot that pushes along, as the murder by multiple gun-shots of a Darryl, black fast-food worker, who was also apart of the crew of Rodney (Delroy Lindo), call into question who might have done it. At first, it seems pretty open and shut, as Victor (Isaiah Washington) comes forth and admits he did it in self-defense. Rocco Klein (Harvey Keitel) doesn't buy it, seems too easy, so he asks around, digs deeper, and sees that his brother, Strike (Mekhi Pfeifer) seems to be much more of the guilty party, by way of how he handles himself in the streets, his repore with Rodney, and as having more motive to kill Darryl. It's through this that Lee then branches it out to make it as much as character as about plot, where the ties between certain characters, like Strike and Tyrone, a pre-teen who looks up to Strike like a surrogate father, are mostly defined by how the neighborhood works out in the open. The clockers are bunch of would-be gang-bangers who talk a lot of talk, but haven't walked nearly as much as Earle, best friend of Rodney's and psychopathic murder, or Rodney himself, who has that veneer of being like the one you can trust the most- half surrogate father as well and half good cop/bad cop boss- until he gets crossed.
Although Price's material, which comes through with the energy and occasional wit, is noticeable throughout, it's really Spike Lee as director and many of the actors who make this a consistently watchable movie. Lee is never one to be too subtle with the camera, and he has variations with how he deals with the material to make it very observant but also subjective. Early on, for example, we see the clockers making their deals in the park in long-shot, shaky, as if Lee's filming it far away for a reality TV show. But then we also see the 360 degree camera moves as Klein questions Strike. There's many camera moves that are practically trademark Lee shots, especially with the lighting, as Klein questions Tyrone, or when we see a flashback to Victor having to deal with some clockers. It's all very flamboyant and meant to call attention to the material, and aside from a few unneeded music choices (it's the only time you'll hear Seal in a drug dealer crime movie), he's on top of things. Meanwhile, the performances are all top-notch, usually, as Keitel and particularly Lindo play their characters so well by pretty much being how we think the actors 'really' are, even though they're not. Pfeifer has a little trickier a time with his performance, because he usually is on a very similar note: I didn't do nothing, is his usual beat. His character also has the intriguing qualities that mark him as something of an outsider however in he might be: his stomach virus, which is never resolved but always looming over him, and his love of electric train-sets.
And all the while, Clockers succeeds in presenting a time and place where there should be little to no hope, and it makes the cops and criminals both pretty well-rounded when compared to other genre films. The cops are meant to be the good guys, but there's also a steady conflict between Klein and his partner: why should Klein care so much as to who did it or why (Strike also asks this question towards the end, in one of the best scenes in the film)? And Strike and Rodney are not cut-outs from black exploitation flicks, but with more of a push and pull tie that is always a threat, never a comfort. There are little details that help make Lee's film interesting when it veers into being like a television serial; the white yuppies who get entangled in the case; the over-protective but very smart cop (Keith David, always a pro) who also tries to play surrogate father to Tyrone, albeit without the same care, however negative, as Strike has; the brief shots of the drug addicts with their habits on display, as we only need to see it for less than a minute to get the nature of the bottom of the food chain, which is total despair. Lee's film, however, isn't really disparaging as it has moments of hope, yet a hope meant to be in understanding that there's no easy way out of all of this.
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