King of New York


Year 1990

Christopher Walken as  Frank White
David Caruso as Dennis Gilley
Laurence Fishburne   as   Jimmy Jump
Victor Argo as Roy Bishop
Wesley Snipes as Thomas Flannigan  
     
Director - Abel Ferrara
Screenwriter - Nicholas St. John

You can see by the date that this isn't one of the new ones.  In fact, the first time I saw this was the first time I remember seeing Christopher Walken with really dark hair. 

Anyway, the movie begins with Frank White (Walken) being released from prison so you know he's not one of the good guys.  Within hours, he's back to his old tricks in New York.  At least I think they were his old tricks.  You see, Frank's got something to do with organized or semi-organized crime.  His back story is never really explained. 

So, KONY rule #1 – Frank's past is a mystery.  Only when it's germane to the events in the film is it mentioned at all.

Frank's self-assigned goal is to be big.  The odd part here is that no one tries to stop him.  Oh, sometimes people say bad things about him, but that's about as far as it goes.  I felt that with all of the trouble that Frank goes about causing that there should have been more repercussions and I don't mean just from law enforcement agencies. 

Even though this is one of the failings of the film, I believe that it was intended so that the dramatic conflict could be confined to only a few characters.  So, for that reason, it's not really points off.  It's just a plot device.  If you can accept that, then keep the movie in the list of potentially watchable films.

KONY rule #2 – Criminals do not retaliate against Frank White. 

So then, why does Frank White want to be big?  It's for altruistic reasons.  He's a volume drug dealer because he needs to raise money to help the poor.  He's a murderer because that just part of life as a drug dealer.  He's also a psycho.  In fact, I believe that this is the role that forever after associated Christopher Walken with dangerously unbalanced characters.

Maybe rule #2 is true because Frank kills everybody.  Well, not at first.  First he just kills one or two people at a time.  Only later does he start killing them in groups.

Every big shot needs a crew or a posse.  In this film Lawrence Fishburn plays Frank's right hand man Jimmy Jump.  As Jimmy, he almost out wackos Christopher Walken.  That's saying a lot.

Also, KONY rule #3 – Racists die early.  Just to make a point, I think.

I've got to mention racism because the film mentions it often.  It's right up there with the poor people need money theme.  Frank White (get the subtle hint) is white and his crew is black.  This is unwelcome in some corners of Frank's world, so those people die.  David Caruso's best friend, Thomas Flannigan, is of Irish descent and played by Wesley Snipes.  This sort of in-your-face, pseudo-symbolism isn't as insulting as what's done to the viewer in MTV Does Racism (a.k.a. American History X) but the anti-racism theme does make its points at odd times.  Maybe it's because there is at most one "good" character in this whole movie. Without an opposite personality trait, it's hard to make a point using contrasts. Keep an open mind for good intentions rather than successful points made.

KONY rule #4 – Water soluble drugs will keep for a year in damp basements if necessary.

As for real "problems" with the film, the biggest problem I had was the lack of a time line.  I found myself asking, "Did all this take place in one night?" and "Did this happen over a period of months or days?" It never really got in the way of the story, but once in a while it took me out of the flow of the movie.  In the end, I think that all of the events took place over a one year period.  Which puts some holes into other aspects of the timeline. 

So, why is this film on this list if it's so flawed?  Well, it's got Christopher Walken in it playing his first real underworld kingpin.  So, it's got that nostalgic aspect to it.  If you're thinking, "What about Max Zorin in A View to a Kill?" I've got to say that I don't count that one because being a 007 villain isn't the same thing.  Or maybe you're thinking, "What about Wesley Pendergrass in Homeboy'? I've got to say that Walken wasn't a kingpin in the movie.  He was just a hood.

And what an interpretation by Walken!  For me it's one of his most memorable characters.  Frank may not be a one of a kind villain, but thanks to Walken's portrayal you may forget that while watching the film.

Also, skinny Walken kicks pre-buff Wesley Snipe's butt in one short scene.  Any time you get to see that, it's a plus.

The acting is over the top. But because all the acting is over the top, the interaction among the players works.  Hey, even David Caruso can be seen without his hands on his hips a few times so you know that he was stretching his acting envelope. 

If that's not enough, one of the biggest reasons to see the movie is to marvel at Abel Ferrara's direction. The movie is a series of pearls strung on a string to make a beautiful necklace.  The plot's thread thin and fraying but the gritty style points awarded in scene after well crafted scene just keep piling up.

From the phone booth fatality (could you even find a phone booth in 1990?) to the death by fire hydrant, every vignette is carefully planned and photographed.  Frequently, I was so engrossed that I was holding my breath. 

Going back to KONY Rule #2 (criminals don't retaliate), if the revenge aspect of the film was in any way realistic, the individual scenes would blur due to there being too many characters to keep track of.  As it plays out, every scene gets to grow in its own time without being rushed.  The viewer, without the burden of having to get a feel for yet another character bent on revenge, gets to devote his attention to taking in all of the progressively revealed details for each scene.

And the cinematography! More than once I found myself saying, "Cool view".  Considering that three-quarters of the movie takes place at night, this is quite an accomplishment.

Is there a moral to the story?  Probably not.  Is there a point to the story?  It's not in the plot, but it is in the dialogue, I think.  I mean that if I had to say there was a point I'd say it's, "Do what you can for your fellow man whenever you can because you may not get a chance later."  Is the movie worth watching?  It's gritty and bloody and will hold your attention so I say, "Yes."

Silly observation – what's up with villains named "Frank"?  I mean "Frank" is a derivative of "Francis" fer cryin' out loud which, face it, isn't threatening and was the name of a talking mule.  But two very memorable villains, Frank White from King of New York and Frank Booth from Blue Velvet, took the moniker on and turned it into a name to fear.  I'll have to keep an eye on this trend...


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