Set It Off (1996)
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All in all, a pretty dang good thriller film that should be seen. The performances are what elevates it above the norm for this genre.
One of the recurring themes of this film is how innocence and good intentions can turn into a nightmarish reality.
A bank teller is confronted by a robber that she knows from childhood. She can hardly believe what is happening, and she doesn't react in the manner in which all bank tellers are trained. A hostage dies, and she loses her job. A slow reaction leads to a death, accusations, and the loss employment.
A bright young man gets a haircut that is identical to a robbery suspect's. The police surround him. He has a champagne bottle in his coat that he doesn't want to break and tries to pull it out. They think it is a gun. An innocent mistake leads to a death.
A loving mother can no longer afford a babysitter. She has to bring her child to work, and he gets into some cleaning supplies. A mother's good intention turns into a hospital trip and a custody battle.
There were other instances where one mistake led to dire consequences, but I found them all believable, and none of them gave me the impression of being mere vehicles to advance the plot.
I enjoyed some of the other representations of Life as it is. One being the inclusion of a lesbian (Latifa) in the cast without making a big deal out of it. Although exhibiting some stereotypical lesbian traits (denim overalls for example,) she wasn't overly "butch." And homosexuality wasn't used as a plot device to include nudity either. Speaking of which, the sex in the movie was pretty well done. When there was love, the sex was passionate. When Stony was doing it for money, she looked ready to burst into tears. For the most part, the sex came without nudity: disappointing in some ways, but adding credibility to the movie in others.
I did have a few problems with this movie. One is a failing that I see in many movies. When a character's friend or family member is killed, he or she expresses initial shock and pain, but later on exhibits no outward mental stress. There is also the "I would have done it differently" factor. I felt this a few times, the first being the opening scene where Frankie (Fox) is being held up. Or when Cleo (Latifa) is stealing get away cars and tossing the previous owner's CDs out the window. Both of these are cases in which one needs to move fast and do what is needed to move on. You don't have time to stare blankly at your old friend. You don't have time to select the proper driving ambience. But these flaws didn't take too much from the general feeling.
I rated it 8 of 10.
This was such a wonderful movie because the action was definitely present here and the acting(especially Jada Pinkett and Queen Latifah) was great! Not only was the action there but the sentiment of the girls and what they've been through and what they go through shows how unfortunate they were and even worse, I damn near almost started crying at the ending 'cause it made me feel so bad. Christopher Young score well with the BGM of this flick to put the cherry on top.
very wonderful movie with a conscience 10/10
If you let yourself have the same feelings as the characters in the
movie have you might have strong emotions like: despair, feeling
trapped and injustice.
You might even find, that choices you can't comprehend are suddenly
For peoples that don't let their feelings participate in watching the
movie. I imagine this movie is less appealing.
We may not agree with what these young ladies are doing but somehow we understand. (please see this movie...)
This is a really good movie that is definitely Oscar-worthy material. Maybe not for the Best Picture category, but definitely Oscar-worthy. The performances are excellent especially from all four of our young stars. Queen Latifah should definitely should have gotten an Oscar or Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Her portrayal of a fiery lesbian is right on key. F. Gary Gray, who also directed Ice Cube and Chris Tucker in "Friday", is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors. I don't think you should really call "Set It Off" an action movie since there isn't really action until the ending.
A line from the movie, "if that crackhead Darnell can rob a bank, then so can we." This quote outlines the main message that the movie is trying to tell: the social standing of women in our society, saying that they have rights too. The movie says that women can basically do anything men can do (and probably better) and they must be applauded for their efforts. Now I'm not saying that women should all go out and round up their friends and start robbing banks. Director F. Gary Gray definitely should be praised for his smart casting choices.
P.S.: Now from the sound of this review, I've probably got you thinking I'm a woman. Wrong! I'm just a 16 year-old boy from Virginia.
Events take a turn for the worst when Stony's brother,Stevie(Chaz Lamar Shepard),is killed by the police in a case of mistaken identity,and Tisean's son is taken away from her by Child Protective Services after he accidentally swallows cleaning fluid at the girls' workplace. Frankie insists that,with her knowledge of banks,they can plan a foolproof job,and she and Cleo convince the other two that they can get out of South Central Los Angeles for good with enough cash. Stony,is sent to case Downtown Federal,where she catches the eye of Keith,a handsome,well-educated bank manager(Blair Underwood),who gives her his phone number. They soon began dating.
The four girls execute their first bank job wearing wigs and sunglasses and make off with $12,000. A second robbery nets them $300,000,enough for them to leave L.A. They hide the loot inside an air vent in the cleaning office. They decide to wait three days before leaving town,until after Tisean's court date to get her child back. Meanwhile, Detective Strode(John C. McGinley)and his female partner Detective Waller(Ella Joyce) doggedly pursue all leads and identify Stony,Frankie and Cleo as suspects. Learning that their boss,Luther(Thom Byrd),has fled with the stolen money,the girls enlist the aid of an notorious gunrunner,Black Sam(Andre "Dr. Dre" Young),who is also a local gang leader,to track Luther to a seedy motel. When Luther pulls a gun out on Cleo,Tisean shoots and kills him. But they are unable to find the money.
The girls pull one last bank job-at Downtown Federal,where Keith works. In order to get Keith out of the bank during the robbery,Stony calls him and tells him to meet her. Strode and his partner interrupt the robbery and get the drop on all four girls. In the ensuing confrontation,a bank guard fires and wounds Tisean and is then shot by Stony. The girls flee with the money and manage to elude the police for several hours. Before the night is over,Tisean dies from her wounds,and Cleo and Frankie are both killed by police bullets in separate incidents. Stony manages to get on a bus to Mexico and freedom. She calls Keith and thanks him.
The motion picture,"Set It Off" offers the audience four intriguing young black female characters,a rare grouping in any Hollywood movie and from the strength of this film went on to become one of the top ten best action films of 1996. Three of the group who stars in "Set It Off",constitute the hottest young black female actresses of their day. You have Jada Pinkett-Smith("The Nutty Professor","Menace II Society", "Jason's Lyric","Collateral"),Vivica A. Fox("Independence Day","Soul Food"),rapper-sitcom-singer star Queen Latifah(from the television series "Living Single","Chicago"),not to mention at the time newcomer Kimberly Elise("John Q","Diary of a Angry Black Woman"). What made this film so very riveting to watch was the electrifying performance of actress Queen Latifah,in one of the most surprising roles ever accompanish by a actress,is a thrill to watch as Cleo. No one else but Latifah can bring this riveting and pulsating character to life with her outlandish style of gun-toting and sometimes extremely foul mouthed criminal flair. Instead,"Set It Off" is fast paced and very well-acted.
The director F. Gary Gray,most notably for the original comedy "Friday",with Ice Cube and Chris Tucker,and the fast paced crime thriller "The Negotiator",with Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson makes imaginative use of L.A. landscape,but still will leave a feeling of social conscience,especially when it touches the issue concerning the explosive rage inside the angry black woman,and the harsh realities of trying to survive in a rugged landscape.
Get this movie out, grab some popcorn and just WATCH IT.
If you believe any of the negative reviews about this film and decide not to view it, it is YOUR LOSS!
The music is great the actresses are beautiful and awesome and it is refreshing to see four african american women hold their own in what turns out to be a tragic but inevitable ending for the foursome.
Don't let others turn you off a movie that is well worth watching for the pure adrenalin rush it gives you when the girls decide to take their destiny into their own hands and GO FOR IT, whatever the consequences and believe me their ARE consequences.
10/10 rating from me just for the pure rocking enjoyment of see chicks with attitude.
For anyone thinking whether they should or should not watch this movie, the answer is YES you should watch this movie, you'll have laughs, crys, you'll be on the edge of your seat wanting to see more, I'm shocked this movie didn't do better at box office, only made around $100,000,000 worldwide.
The film is predictable from the get-go, so just strap in for the ride. Don't expect high-class writing and high-class direction, especially from the guy who made "Friday." Don't get me wrong, that was a good movie, but like "Set it Off" it's only valuable as lightweight entertainment.
One thing I have to say is this is one black movie that didn't go for the humdrum "white people bad, black people good" premise. I assumed that was the direction the film was going after watching the first scene in which the white bank manager fires Vivica for not following procedure, totally ignoring the fact that she was at gunpoint, along with everyone else in the bank. But then we get introduced to the other two managers, who are both black and both sleazy. Not to say that black people are sleazy; it's just good knowing that the writers weren't associating the term "white" with "sleazy" and didn't see the characters in terms of color. Even the John C. McGinley character, the detective who is out to get the four women, isn't entirely sadistic.
There are a few moments that are just too silly for their own good. Are you telling me two cops are gonna be so distracted by an obnoxious vagrant that they'll totally disregard a bank robbery (literally) taking place right behind them? As I said, you can tell this was written by amateurs. And then we have Queen Latifah driving through the bank in a minivan, which is stupid in the first place and shown simply for cinematic pretentiousness, and the four women drive out, still not being actively pursued by the cops. Latifah makes one turn and suddenly she loses the cops altogether? That's too much disbelief to suspend. And of course, in the usual cinematic tradition, the minor characters have to die first. Kimberly Elise dies in standard operatic fashion--in someone's arms, saying her last words. Only in the movies can someone die like that 90 % of the time.
The acting is pretty good, though sometimes hammy. When Jada sees her brother dead on the street, screaming and crying out, "Whyyyyy!!!!" (I could be paraphrasing), that was too much. Latifah's role as a crazy thug wasn't much of a stretch, especially since this film was made back in her hip-hop days. She is a fine actress, though, and I prefer her more mature roles in films like "Living Out Loud." John C. McGinley and Blair Underwood add a touch of class.
If F. Gary Gray weren't so dependent on melodrama and big action spectacles to create tension, this wouldn't been a much more compelling film. Maybe someone like John Singleton or the Hughes Brothers could've made this a more powerful film. Just don't set your expectations too high and you should have a good time.
My score: 7 (out of 10)
I'm missed seeing this several times and looked forward to it a bit. The plot is basically the same as several other crime flicks you'll have seen - gang begins robbery spree, how will it turn out? etc. However the twist here is that the gang are all women and all black. As a twist this is quite good as there are very few all black, all female thrillers out there, so they deserve at least one! The plot is pretty solid and allows for good robbery pieces as well as the usual standoffs and quite exciting climax.
It does also have many weaknesses. There are too many ghetto movie clichés thrown into the mix for my liking. Whether it be the boy bound for college who gets shot, the single mother trying to make it, the low riders etc. I understand why they're all there but really it hurts the film a bit. One little weakness that bothered me was Stony's romance with Keith - he seemed too good to be true and doesn't fit in with all the grit etc that's going on around the rest of the film. But that's it - aside from some sex scenes to help get men into the cinema and some lesbian stuff that appears to be the only reason to have made Cleo gay.
Pinkett (as she was then) is pretty good -in fact pretty and good! She's the only one whose character stays someone resembling reality. I like Fox in several things but she starts normal and quickly turns into a gun-toting criminal. Elsie is OK in her first role and is suitably soft and trapped, but Latifah overplays her butch lesbian. Underwood is as greasy as his hair and I didn't like him and McGinley does good despite his role basically being an attempt to make the white audience feel good about their role. Outside of that Dr Dre makes a laid back cameo.
Overall it doesn't rise above the level of the heist thriller generally but it's still enjoyable and is at least a different direction for all black female films - at least it's not yet another `waiting to exhale'!
"Set it Off" is about four close-knit women who have all had tough breaks in life. They made the best out of growing up in the projects and became, for the most part, honest, hard-working and self-respecting young women. The story starts off with Francesca, a bank clerk, getting held up and witnessing a violent shoot out that her fear crippled her from possibly preventing. A by the numbers detective named Strode blames her for it, causing her to get fired. The story shifts to its main character Lida, Francesca's friend who is a janitor in an upper-class apartment building, soon learning she has to compromise all of her good traits just to break even in life. To help her little brother get some money for college, she gives in to her shady employer's sexual demands. When her brother is coincidentally mistaken for the bank robber by Strode, he is shot and killed with no apologies.
The movie was off to a good start, but I quickly started noticing that its scenes were getting progressively dumber. First off all, Strode seems to be on every case that the L.A.P.D. has to offer. Being that I have heard much praise for this film, I was surprised when more and more coincidences started trying my patience. The movie started feeling like a predictable crowd-pleaser, although it was supposed to be a hard-hitting protest about why the lower class seems to have abandoned.
Any high school or college writing class teaches that to evaluate something is to see how closely or effectively it comes to its intended mark. My problem with "Set it Off" is that it is unclear as to what its mark really is. It shakily walks the line between action movie and socially-conscious drama so much that I started to question how dumb does the screenwriter thought his audience was. Since there is an objective made early on in the script, that there must be a reckoning for the unfair treatment of these women (and the lower-class community at large), it is questionable when it starts to stray.
In his three and a half star (out of four) review of the film, Roger Ebert calls it "observant and well-informed." Sure the film had some very relatable characters and situations, but the screenplay is far from "Observant and well-informed." If anything, the writing is histrionic. A realistic screenplay would have characters who were less heroic and aware of their exploitation. Sure Queen Latifah is fabulous as a gun-toting lesbian, but does such a character really represent underprivileged women? A competent screenplay also wouldn't rely on coincidences and action sequences to make its point.
(1 and 1/2 out of 4)