An organized-crime version of Robin Hood expressed through a violent tone and a great performance from Walken, resulting in a story that captures ones attention, and the time-period.
Upon his release from prison, former kingpin Frank White returns to his neighborhood bent on wiping out his competition, ruling the drug trade and sharing his profits with the underprivileged in the form of a children’s hospital.
I will not try to count the times I have seen this movie and while it lacks some elements to make it a classic, the appeal of this one is still great. Christopher Walken was superb in the role of Frank White and he was able to pull off all the film needed from his character. He was a great anti-hero and despite his unsavory actions, Walken still made the character very likable.
The script was clearly on the simple side, the characters were lacking much depth but this is where I feel Walken made the most of his material. With his demeanor, and dead eyes you can sense much about him. Walken portrays a man who has spent years on the streets and weathered the storm, while his years in prison definitely changed his outlook on his mortality. This script doesn’t tell you how long he was in prison but you get the sense it was a long time. Once back out on the streets you get a sense of urgency about his character is it was very interesting to see this aspect of his character progress through the film.
The cinematography by Bojan Bazelli was excellent, and working with director Abel Ferrara, the two created a very visually appealing film in a subtle way. It was hip, fresh and gritty all at the same time. Added with the soundtrack and score put together by Joe Delia this is a complete package for the genre, and in my mind ahead of its time with its raw tone. There was a great mix of rap and hip-hop to lock in the era and a mix of soft orchestral tones to create an odd, but effective blend. As the music changes between the characters and Frank White goes about some of his silent scenes, the soft music that plays over the scenes gives his character an elegance among his dirty criminal actions.
Criminal activity is clearly glorified to an extent but it still works to give the entire story a somewhat rebellious feel. For the time-period this film was released it holds some plausible weight, and the direction of the script, for me, did an excellent job of depicting the leverage the crime trade had on the neighborhoods during the rampant influx of drugs in the 80’s. Through the characters playing the cops in this film you can feel the hopelessness in their attempts to try and bring these crime syndicates to justice.
I will admit that with some deeper creation to the story-line this could have been conveyed much better with a greater impact. Also, for as entertaining as this film was the story was rather generic and really held a monotone pace before its third-act wrap up. Without the strong cast of familiar faces in their younger years, and many bringing great performances this would not have been the appealing crime-drama it is.
Wesley Snipes, David Caruso and Laurence Fishburne (back when he still went by Larry) were all great. In particular from Fishburne who brought the film another brand of eccentricity through his character. It could be argued that his performance was a fine line between overacting and portraying pure craziness. Either way it worked for his role and for me he clearly came across as an insane leader under Frank White, almost as if he was White’s living alter ego.
Caruso was a fun comic relief at times and he delivered some intensity through his anger as a cop feeling as if he is fighting a battle that cannot be won. The only problem was the angle was thinly written and unfortunately some of his lines come across as forced. Snipes had some moments as well but without much screen-time he was little more than a strong side-character.
No good crime-drama would be complete without some violence and “King of New York” gives you plenty. There was a Chinatown shootout that I will admit was a little weak, but other than that scene the rest of the violent sequences were very tense. The action in this film was well shot and placed in gritty locations of the city to pull you into the setting which enables a great amount of intensity to come off through them.
In the end “King of New York” has its flaws but it doesn’t hinder the enjoyment. The performance of Walken was excellent and seeing the cast when they were younger is a nice addition to a film that no matter when you watch it will pull you back to the early 90’s. This film is not to the level of say “The Departed” but for what it was during its time, it was then, and is still to this day a great gangster movie.
– Starring –
Christopher Walken, David Caruso, Laurence Fishburne, Victor Argo, Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, Paul Calderon, Steve Buscemi, Theresa Randle, Roger Guenveur Smith
– Directed By –
Time: 103 min
MPAA Rating: R (Strong bloody violence, graphic drug use, pervasive strong language, sexuality and nudity)