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.