Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

12 Angry Men

 What About It?

"Twelve Angry Men" is a film that many consider one of the greatest films of all time and was Oscar nominated for best picture, director and writing. This was also Director Sidney Lumet's first feature film, a fact which strikes me as astounding, given the complexity involved. To make such a powerful movie the first time out is miraculous. The idea of keeping an audience's attention on twelve men stuck in a room together talking is also a daunting task, (which was helped by some truly fine acting talent.) Lumet's technique is subtle and very effective, lowering the camera in each act and varying the lighting, to increase the sense of claustrophobia.

This is as good an example of a top notch ensemble cast as exists anywhere, although the magnetism of Henry Fonda, played against Lee J. Cobb's bitter stubbornness is the centerpiece that everyone gathers around. That being said, every juror in the room is notable in one respect or another and each man believes he is doing the right thing by his own reasoning. Each man has his own prejudices and quirks, and it's easy to see why at first glance they would all assume a guilty verdict.

While the film possibly presents a victory of the legal system, the implication is a lot less uplifting. If Henry Fonda's Juror #8 hadn't been in the room with his amazingly stubborn refusal to cave in when every other person in the room believed he was way off base, then what would have happened? Is it reasonable to expect that every jury have a Henry Fonda? I don't think so. On the other hand we can't assume that every jury will have a Juror #3, intent on a guilty verdict no matter what the facts may be. The reality is likely somewhere in between, and better represented by the jurors between the two polar opposites. Yet, if we look at the in between in this film we would definitely reach an almost instant guilty verdict.

Most of us have known people like each of the jurors and their traits are diverse enough that anyone could even find parts of themselves in each of them.
Juror #1, who tries hard to be fair, but needs to feel a sense of his own authority, which is easily threatened. Juror #2, timid and completely insecure in his own opinion. He instinctively goes along with the group.
Juror #3, so bitter, that he can't even see his own agenda, skilled at deflection and denial, so steeped in masking his real issues that he would send a man to death to take out his anger at his own son.
Juror #4, unemotional but fair, accepting only what he perceives as fact.
Juror #5, insecure and defensive about his own upbringing, and the closet thing to a "peer" the accused kid has. He's mostly reasonable, and makes up his own mind.
Juror #6, blue collar, somewhat cynical about anyone's innocence, but not maliciously so.
Juror #7, supremely self interested, seeing jury duty as an inconvenience keeping him from a ball game. Even knowing they're discussing a boy's life doesn't change his lack of concern.
Juror #8, the architect, determined that an innocent boy won't go to the chair without a thorough examination of every area with room for doubt. Self confident and stubborn, unfazed by the prospect of being the only dissenter.
Juror #9, the elderly man, pays close attention to detail, genuinely interested in doing the right thing.
Juror #10, his most prominent feature is the way his racism affects his every opinion about the case.
Juror #11, wants to follow the system properly, appreciating it differently than the others by virtue of coming from another country which didn't offer the freedoms and safeties he finds in the American legal system. Juror #12, similar to #7 in his extreme self interest. While he's a bit more polished than #7, he would rather talk about advertising than deliberate the points of the case.

These characters are all exaggerations, designed to highlight the different viewpoints that can be present in such a gathering. Each presents a piece of the group dynamic. One shared characteristic of most of them is that they are content to follow another's lead, whether Juror #8 of Juror #3. In this case Juror #8, knew how to present himself and presented his doubts better than #3 presented his certainty. No one wanted to side with Juror #8 against the other 11 jurors. Only Juror #9, the old man, who was unconcerned with social standing was willing to make that leap, and even he only did so out of respect for Juror #8's guts in standing alone.

Despite their knowledge that they were dealing with a young man's life, they were still concerned with the group's approval. Juror #8 wisely worked with the group dynamic to allow each Juror to change his mind in a way that felt acceptable to him. It's telling that the "outsiders" came around to his viewpoint first, the elderly Juror #9, the "raised in the slums #5, and the immigrant #11. Once there was a respectable number of "Not Guilty" votes, Juror #2 felt comfortable switching his vote, being himself an outsider, but also easily intimidated. Juror #6, the "average" guy now has the ability to entertain the facts, without a huge majority leaning either way, and considering the doubts presented changes his vote. With the numbers even at that point, and unable to deny the momentum of going from one Not guilty vote to six, the self interested are the next to change votes, partly to get what they see as the inevitable process over with. This leaves the three Jurors requiring extra persuasion. Juror #10, is persuaded by the room's unanimous rejection of his racist reasoning, which is only possible on the level that it occurs due to the growing majority. Juror #4, is all about the facts, and considers himself the smartest man in the room, only by appealing to knowledge about eyeglasses that only he himself has is he able to be swayed. This leaves only Juror #3, who is "peer pressured" into coming to grips with his own baggage. Certainly the facts and lack of them, is important, but as shown, the facts themselves would not have changed the Guilty verdict to Not Guilty.

In my opinion, this is the biggest danger of the jury system, the fact that group dynamics, can overpower the facts. I think that most jurors, have a suspicion that a man who is on trial is not on trial for no reason. We trust authority figures more than the average citizen. A policeman's testimony on the stand carries more weight than that of the man he arrested. The jurors here come to recognize Juror #8 as an authority figure, giving in to his determination and self confidence. While it's fortunate that he's working to give the accused a chance, making him just a little dumber and less charismatic, and making Juror #8 a touch more stable and objective would have changed the whole equation.

"12 Angry Men" is just a movie, but the issues it raises are as relevant now as they were then. Our jury system has not changed.Many people view the courts as a place where people, win by hiring the better lawyer. Do we really observe "innocent until proven guilty." to the point of "beyond a reasonable doubt?" I would speculate that the answer is "sometimes." I'm sure that some juries are as diligent as they can possibly be, but I'm just as sure that some are not. Some would answer such an assertion with the challenge to stop complaining if you don't have a better solution, but I don't accept that. The point of this movie to me is to ask some difficult questions, and take a look at where what we have can go wrong. It's wonderful that this movie is shown to schoolchildren to expose them to the danger's inherent in our system. This is a film I think we can all benefit from watching now and then, because someone's life or liberty could be at stake, and while we can't help the fact that the system isn't perfect, we can at least take it seriously enough to try to be aware of where it fails.

Fittingly I think, we don't know any more than the jurors do if the accused kid killed his father. Maybe he did and maybe he didn't. That's what Juror #8's battle is really about, the fact that they can't know that. They are presented evidence that makes it appear that he did, and the Jury's response is to accept the evidence, arriving at the conclusion that he must have done it, and it needs to be proven that he didn't, the opposite of the law's requirement, yet a natural reaction, drawing guilt from the accusation.  To shift the burden of proof to the accuser, is a monumental undertaking which is only done by him accepting that their understanding in reversed and proving to them "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the case has a lot of holes in it. He points out this fact many times, but none of them understand it until the "proof" is scrutinized.  Rather than assume innocence, they assume guilt, and Juror #8 is forced to examine the case through this standard rather than the one prescribed by law.While Henry Fonda, might make it look like a walk in the park, I fear this task would be too much for most of us.

Sidney Lumet has said that the screenwriter Reginald Rose, believed that people were essentially good, a fact which Lumet himself doesn't agree with, but all the same, he loved the story. Personally, I can see the story serving both points of view. We can take it totally at face value and point to it as an example of the system working, but the difficulty and uncertainty in reaching this point suggest that next time it likely won't.  If we had 12 men itching like Juror #7 to see a ball game, this would have been a much different and much shorter movie. It's also notable, and a sign of the times, that the boys jury of "peers" was twelve white men who, except for Juror #5, had nothing in common with the accused at all. The problems the jury faces however are anything but outdated, as "beyond a reasonable doubt" and "innocent until proven guilty" are principles that our system still wrestles with today, and the stakes are exactly the same.

Justice prevails here perhaps, but I don't see any choice but to view it as anecdotal evidence. A brilliant film, which I think serves us better as a warning to how easy it is for the system to fail, than as a shining example of how well it works.

What Happens?

It's understandable that the idea of being tangled in the American court system is a less than comforting thought. The jury system is ideally designed to have your fate decided by your peers. Peers is a relative term though, meaning people chosen by random selection of any possible background, personalities, and outlooks. The idea of a jury systemoffers the potential for justice, but a terrifying possibility for justice being diverted.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Escape From New York

In the future (1997, according to the movie) crime has risen to ridiculous levels and Manhattan Island has been turned into a walled prison without guards on the inside, leaving the prisoners to do as they like, provided they don't leave the prison. "The one rule is once you go in you don't come out."The borders are heavily guarded by an army of police, as evidenced in the opening when a helicopter blows up two men trying to escape via raft (after warning them and their compliance with the request to turn around.)

We next see a bus arrive, which two armed guards exit, escorting a man with an eye patch. As they escort him into a building where prisoners are processed and transported into the prison. The loud speaker reminds prisoners that they have the option to "terminate and be cremated" at any time, rather than go to the prison.

Island security has obtained a distress signal, which they soon realize is from Air Force One, which has been hijacked by a terrorist who is in the process of crashing it. The Secret Service men get the president into an escape pod and launch him. Security forces, led by Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) enter the island to search for the president. They're greeted by a prisoner who tells them to leave or the president dies. They show Hauk the president's finger to prove they have him, and he is forced to back off. Hauk soon sees the man with the eye patch, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell). Looking through his record, Hauk cites special forces, black ops experience and many honors, along with his conviction for robbing the federal reserve. He makes Snake an offer.

Hauk: You go in, find the President, bring him out in 24 hours, and you're a free man.

Snake Plissken: 24 hours, huh?
Bob Hauk: I'm making you an offer.
Snake Plissken: Bullshit!
Bob Hauk: Straight just like I said.
Snake Plissken: I'll think about it.
Bob Hauk: No time. Give me an answer.
Snake Plissken: Get a new president!
Bob Hauk: We're still at war, Plissken. We need him alive.
Snake Plissken: I don't give a fuck about your war... or your president.
Bob Hauk: Is that your answer?
Snake Plissken: I'm thinking about it.
Bob Hauk: Think hard.
Snake Plissken: Why me?
Bob Hauk: You flew the Gullfire over Leningrad. You know how to get in quiet. You're all I got.
Snake Plissken: I guess I go in one way or the other... doesn't mean shit to me. All right... I'll do it. Give me the pardon paper.
Bob Hauk: When you come out.
Snake Plissken: Before.
Bob Hauk: I told you I wasn't a fool, Plissken.
Snake Plissken: Call me Snake.

 Hauk tells Snake about the inhabitants of the island. They equip him with a tracking device/ timer, and tell him he can locate the president by a signal from bracelet he wears.Hauk tells him that he know has less than 23 hours, as the deadline is due to a briefcase the president was to bring to the "Hartford Summit" meeting with China and Russia.  They inject Plissken with microscopic capsules which will explode in twenty four hours, unless he's back before then and they deactivate them. Snake promises "when I get back, I'm gonna kill you."

Snake is given a plane to land on the Wrold Trade Center, the only way to get in undetected. Snake makes the landing. He makes his way down and finds the wreckage of the plane, reporting back to Hauk, that no one else survived the crash. He gets a blip on his wrist device, indicating the president is ahead. He searches through the devastated Manhattan, finding a theater with people watching a live musical show. He's noticed walking through by Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine) who recognizes him as Snake Pissken. He tells Snake he shouldn't go downstairs, but Snake doesn't listen. Snake casually beats two muggers who attempt to attack him. He finds the president's tracking bracelet, on the wrist of a random degenerate.  He radios Hauk to tell him he's leaving and the president is dead. Hauk tells him if he tries to leave, he'll shoot him down.Snake remarks "No human compassion."

With no other option, he continues searching, finding the president's escape pod. Snake follows a man making noises and is surprised when people start appearing all around him, coming up to the street via manhole covers and emerging out of alleys. He ducks into a "Chock Full O' Nuts" shop and meets a girl (Season Hubley) who asks if he's a cop. She tells him she's stuck in the shop as it isn't safe to go out at night with the gangs out. She recognizes him, and remarks "I heard you were dead." It turns out the shop isn't safe as a gang starts coming in through the floorboards, grabbing the girl. Snake shoots some of them and gets away, but his radio is broken.

Cabbie finds him coming out of an alley and tells him he shouldn't be in the street at night. Cabbie casually tosses a Molotov cocktail into the alley where the gang chasing him is now coming from. He's honored to have Snake in his cab. Snake reveals he's looking for the president and puts a gun to Cabbie's head. Cabbie is happy to tell him that the Duke has the President and informs him that he doesn't need to put a gun to his head to get the information. Cabbie tells him the Duke is the Duke of New York, and he's in charge of everything. He also tells him that no one can meet the Duke and live. Cabbie brings Snake to a building, telling him it's a better neighborhood. The building is where "the Brain" (Harry Dean Stanton) lives. They have to get through Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau) the Brain's girlfriend. She remarks that she thought Snake was dead. Snake recognizes The Brain as Harold, an old friend who ran out on him and his team in a mission.  He demands to know where the president is. He insists that he doesn't know. Snake offers to take the Brain out with him if he can bring him to the President. Maggie claims that the Duke is planning to take everybody out of the prison. Snake tells her that very soon, the president won't mean much. The Brain reveals that they're working on crossing the 69th St. Bridge, (which is mined ) to leave the island.

They see the Duke (Isaac Hayes) approaching in a car with chandeliers mounted on the hood. Cabbie reminds Snake, "You don't cross the Duke!" The Brain is in a panic because he thinks the Duke will kill him for being with Snake. Duke insists that they go get the President while the Duke is here. They steal a car and head for him, The Brain suggesting they take Broadway against Maggie's protests. Broadway is now completely barbarous, with heads on pikes in the street and people pelting their car with thrown objects as soon as they enter it. The Brain points out a train car, which should contain the president. He tells Snake the Duke should be back in five minutes and he's leaving in four. The Brain distracts the car's guards while Snake sneaks in and grabs the president, killing the guards in the car silently. More guards come after them once they leave the car. Snake beats quite a few of them until they restrain him with numbers.

The Duke has arrived and asks Brain if Snake is a friend of his.  The Duke knocks out Snake, noting that he's heard of him, and heard he was dead. Helicopters scan the island for people but find nothing using infrared body scans, as if the island is deserted. An official appears at the prison headquarters telling Hawk they have to go in themselves. Outside, the train cars, the Duke shoots around the president who is tied up to a wall. He happens to shoot open the briefcase attached to the president's wrist. One of the duke's men takes the cassette tapes in the briefcase and puts them in his pocket. They then untie the president.

One of the helicopters sees a group of people waving them down from the food drop area. They leave the president's briefcase for the security people to find. The Brain figures out that Snake must have come in at the top of the World Trade Center and starts planning to take the plane himself. Hauk examines the briefcase and finds a note in it from Duke, demanding amnesty for all prisoner's in exchange for the president. He's also dismayed that the tapes are not in the briefcase. They also included something from Plissken which gets Hauk to agree that they will go in themselves. Snake is escorted around by many guards, still limping from his wound. They bring him into a makeshift boxing ring while the crowd cheers. His opponent is much bigger than Snake, although Snake appears disinterested. The Duke makes an announcement from the balcony:
They sent in their best man, and when we roll across the 59th Street bridge tomorrow, on our way to freedom, we're going to have their best man leading the way - from the neck up! ...On the hood of my car!
Snake fights his opponent, both armed with trash can lids, and sticks with spikes in them and activates the tracer in his tracking device. Eventually Snake sticks one of the nails through the man's head and the crowd starts sheering "Snake, Snake, Snake" enthusiastically.

The Brain,and Maggie make their way in to see the president (who they've dressed up in a blonde wig) When the guards realize the Brain shouldn't be in there, Maggie shoots them dead. The Brain and Maggie escape the building with the president heading for the plane. Snake catches up with the Brain and Maggie, as well as the others who pursued them there. Snake helps them fend off the attackers, and the plane ends up falling off the building. Snake realizes the briefcase is gone and asks about the tape. The Brain claims he knows where  it is to avoid Snake leaving him behind. The Duke finds them, and threatens to kill them although they escape. Cabbie picks them up and they discover he has the tape, having traded one of Duke's men for his hat. They head for the 69th St. Bridge, now relying on the Brain's diagram to escape. The Duke chases after them. The diagram isn't very effective as they hit several mines, finally blowing the cab in two and killing Cabbie. They go the rest of the way on foot. The Brain hits a mine and dies and Maggie elects to stay behind and try to shoot the Duke, until he runs her over. The Duke follows on foot and Hauk realizes that's how Snake is leaving, keeping his forces on standby, ordering a truck with a winch to help them over the wall, as well as instructing the guards not to shoot prisoners.

The Duke arrives as they're lowering the winch, shooting at Plissken and the guards. Snake beats the Duke and then starts climbing up the winch. The President sees the Duke get up with his gun and shoots him several times, repeating "You're the Duke. You're A number one!" while blasting him (a phrase the Duke had forced him to say earlier) Hauk has Snake's explosives deactivated. The president tells Snake he'll give him anything he wants if he just names it. Snake asks him how he feels about the people who died to get him out of there. The President says the nation appreciates their sacrifice. He then rushes to get ready for a televised address, which relies on the cassette tape from his briefcase. Hauk tells him he has another deal for him to think about, but Snake puts him off. We see the president's surprise when the cassette is Cabbie's music. Snake walks away, unwinding the actual tape.

John Carpenter has never been a director to waste much effort on polish or subtlety. Escape from New York is essentially an ugly parable that is unashamed to present itself as such. This is evident in not only his gritty low budget film style, but also in the way he handles the plot, and related details. "Escape From New York" is certainly sci fi but it isn't about gadgets but people. Rather than flying cars, he shows us a future, that despite having advanced technology, has run in the reverse direction. If you were of a mind to, you could spend a day finding holes in the story logic, but Carpenter isn't worried about such details, as they are just excuses to get the characters to interact, more specifically to allow Snake Plissken to interact with the ugly world around him. "Escape From New York" is a dated movie, but it's Carpenter's willingness to play it completely over the top that keeps the dated quality from dragging it down. It's not likely that Manhattan will become a prison island, by the year 2999, but again, it's not supposed to be a likely outcome, only a nightmarish imagining of where we are brought to a an imagined conclusion, in order to examine a few of our failures.

Kurt Russell's performance is pitch perfect. He makes Snake a terrifically stoic soldier who's tired of taking orders. His tone of voice when saying his own name is enough to give us a feeling for his contempt. Ernest Borgnine's Cabbie is a high point of the film. This "simple" character brimming with enthusiasm gives an unexpected energy to the journey. Of all the deaths in the picture, Cabbie's is the only one that really hits home.  Harry Dean Stanton is also great as self serving as Snake, yet much more untrustworthy. He's a coward all the way through, yet has a talent for making himself valuable. Isaac Hayes also shines as the absurdly egocentric Duke. His unpredictable presence brings a menace to every scene he's in. He isn't an easily disposable villain brought in to let Snake score some easy tough guy points, and it's interesting that it isn't Snake who kills Duke but the president himself. Lee Van Cleef's performance, though brief, brings with it the weight of Van Cleef's career playing Western heavies. It takes that kind of presence to not look ridiculous when trying to force Snake Plissken to do what you want. The cast of this movie alone ensures an enjoyable experience.

I find it amusing that we're already a ways past the futuristic 1997, in which the film takes place. Manhattan is no closer to being a prison island now, but I don't imagine Carpenter really thought it would. It's this kind of over the top detail that suggests Carpenter aimed for the most visually dramatic way to illustrate where society was headed. I don't believe it ever aims to be prophetic in a literal way, only to illustrate the huge disconnect between certain parts of society. Making Manhattan an unattended (on the inside) prison is a pretty direct way to say, those in power don't care in any way shape or form about the "criminal" classes. Once you're sent to New York, you don't get out. That's the only rule, and the values illustrated by that couldn't be more clear. He doesn't delve into what's required to get sent to the prison, but we can assume that every resident is not a hardened murderer or felon. Crime seems to have become a catch all category for any unwanted behavior. Using the destroyed statue of liberty as a marketing image (although the statue is intact in the film) is a pretty direct cue as to the desired effect, as the prison island is an examination of what we do with our huddled masses. The irony is clear looking at an excerpt from "the New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, which is inscribed there:
"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Plissken is not a saint, being a square representation of the anti hero. We know that he tried to rob the federal reserve, and most people would agree that bank robbers should be incarcerated. We also know that Plissken has worked top secret special ops for the government. The connection between the two actions can be read as Snake Plissken having outright contempt for the government he worked for. The federal reserve is the government's money. This isn't at all veiled in his conversation with Hauk. He doesn't care about Hauk's concern for civilization, or for the safety of the president. A full pardon is what it takes to get his attention, and even then, we are as aware as Hauk is that the pardon should be handed out after the job is done. Even planting the explosive in Plissken is understandable, knowing that Snake has no real loyalty to them and seems to be the most dangerous man alive besides. Letting Snake Plissken rescue the president without another incentive to ensure he delivers would be as dangerous to the government as giving the president to the gangs.

Snake is portrayed as self serving and amoral, self preservation the only thing that really drives him. But keep in mind that this character doesn't exist in a vacuum. The world he exists in has already been through a third world war, and America has clearly stated that their interest is only in furthering the well being of the elite class. The helicopter in the beginning incinerating prisoners on a raft, treats this as a routine activity. Prisoner's entering the prison are given the option to "terminate" at any time in order to save the guards the effort of transport. The guards serve a system which uses cruelty as daily practice. Knowing Snake's extensive experience, it's hard to say that his attitude is unjustified. In fact, he appears to be the only person with a conscience in the film. The bar for conscience, however, has been significantly lowered in this world, and Snake thinks nothing of walking by a rape, rather than take the time to intervene, which would cost time from his mission.

Once inside the prison, we see that Snake really is a legend, although everybody thinks that he was dead. Duke refers to Snake as "the best" they could send, so it's interesting that he isn't presented here as in any way invulnerable. He gets injured and captured like everyone else and his success is hardly a foregone conclusion. He fulfills his mission, but only barely, at the last second possible. Only at the end do we see the shape of the grudge that Snake carries, when he asks the president what he thinks of the people that died to get him out, and he responds that they did a service to their country. Snake isn't at all impressed with the president's sincerity, although the response is exactly what he expected. Despite his pardon, Snake Plissken, knows that he is as "undesirable" as those in the Manhattan prison, and as he reveals in a conversation with Brain, he's seen others die in service to their country.  Whether withholding the tape dooms the country or not isn't nearly as much a concern to Snake, as the chance to call the government on it's lies and disregard for humanity. Snake is self serving and amoral sure, but the government's cruelty and callousness makes him almost look kind.

The indictment here is not merely the government however, as those inside the prison aren't any kinder to each other. "The Duke" is certainly no better than the president in terms of being kind to his fellow man. The average inmate is either a member of a gang or counting down the minutes until a gang member finds him. The prison is a civilisation of ruins, for the most part, totally barbaric. The "civilized" areas are typically only a symbol of status for those with the most power, as demonstrated most by the chandelier's on the Duke's car. And yet, in the midst of the prison insanity, it's still possible to sit in a theater and see a musical. Ernest Borgnine's Cabbie, the gentlest person in the film, keeps Molotov cocktails handy to keep the gangs at bay. Whether in prison or on the outside, the people submit to some structured authority, while the Duke's forces use spikes and sticks, the American government uses cutting edge firepower, preferring to threaten from a distance and having the money to do so. The Duke's gang, however, doesn't present itself as just or civilized so at least can't be accused of hypocrisy. They're only doing what they're expected to do.

Snake Plissken is the wild card, the only one against the very idea of going along with the system. He's been there already and knows what it means, and as a result thinks nothing of thwarting the president's plan to scare China and Russia into line, as soon as his own life is saved. In "Escape from New York" it's hard to find much of humanity that's really worth saving, unless we can find it in Snake Plissken.

Friday, October 22, 2010

White Lightning

What About It?
(for a full summary of the film, scroll down to "What Happens?")

While "White Lightning" is first and foremost, an action  revenge story, that doesn't keep it from addressing a few social issues. The battle between the federal government and the culture of moonshiners is one that affects every character in the film. While the government isn't portrayed as an outright villain, it is showed as possibly, a necessary evil, depending on your own priorities. Gator's father was a moonshiner, as was he. Gator has three moonshine offenses, as does Roy, the other prominent "runner" in the film, suggesting that this is the life they know, law or not. When Gator leaves prison to see his parents, they're not shocked at what he's done, and ask him not to get into it again, because he'll get in trouble with the law, not because it's wrong. Prison is just a part of the life they know, and they don't think any less of him for being incarcerated for it. Gator's father, however, does think less of him for working with the feds, naming names of moonshiners. He seems to view it as a betrayal of the family.

An interesting part of the film is that Gator, doesn't engage in much hand wringing over working with the federal government. For him, it appears the only second option available, escape being first. Everyone assumes that he'll be turning everyone in, but as he explains a few times, he's only after one guy. Using the law against the law, gives him the ability to avenge his brother when nothing else will. Ultimately he doesn't betray his culture, but uses the law as a tool. The Sheriff, is as much a part of the moonshine culture as Gator is, and while we could see him as "law" He is as opposed to the Federal government as much as Gator's father or any moonshiner. viewing it as very much the enemy. Connors views the federal government as communists, trying to force integration and rob the people of his county.

Gator's decision is rejected by his father and others because they don't like the principle of the thing. It's a very "us and them" mentality. You just don't work against your own people. Gator's decision however, is also decided based on "the principle of the thing." He reveals late in the movie that he didn't really know his brother, but to him the idea that some sheriff can just kill his brother is not at all tolerable. It's an idea that he can't stand so much that he's willing to risk his life to correct it. He's not making a stand against any great injustice. A man killed his brother. It's a personal attack that he feels must answered by any means necessary. His distant view is evidenced by the lack of savagery on Gator's part. He's willing to fight or even kill someone if he has to to preserve his own life, but even after killing Sheriff Connors, he takes no pleasure in it, other than doing a job he needs to see done. He's able to stand by calmly as the Sheriff launches himself into the water. It doesn't need to be up close and personal. it just needs to be done. Rather than shoot Big Bear with the shotgun, he hits him with it, and only kills an officer who has his gun pointed at him at close range. He wonders what it means that his brother who was "good" and interested in social change was killed, while he, who was never good at all, gets by OK. He doesn't understand what his brother was doing, but clearly sees it as more worthwhile than his own activities. He answers his own pondering at the end when he says "The good, they die young." if you note that Sheriff Connors was not young.

While not overly concerned with a greater injustice, the character does have his own code of conduct. He thinks nothing of sleeping with Lou, although she's Roy's girl. When confronted on it, he asks if Roy plans to marry her, implying that if he was, he'd back off. Clearly he isn't, so this doesn't trouble his conscience.  Gator isn't a character given to much introspection, but he has lines he won't cross. He's happy enough being a "good ol' boy." although his definition may differ from others. While he's pretty smart, he isn't educated. or bothered by the fact he isn't. He knows cars and moonshine, and given a choice would be content to sit around drinking and telling jokes.
Contrary to the movie's assertion, he isn't "the baddest." He doesn't bother with tough guy posturing, unless pressed to defend himself, yet he's secure enough to take a gun away from someone and then give it back if they ask.

The federal government looms over all of them, and the times are changing, as Harvey tells Sheriff Connors "It can't be the way it was!" Although most people in Gator's immediate circle wish the federal government would leave them alone, they are slowly accepting that some changes are inevitable. This is a community where Gator can establish instant credibility, by mentioning a driver he knew named "Rebel Roy," a character who had a Confederate flag painted on his hood. He views protesting as something that should happen "up north, in New York. places like that." While Gator's limited world view and his prison term would seem to insulate him from the world changing around him, it doesn't, and he's affected him through his brother's death. His brother Donnie was the "the only one in the family who ever accomplished anything" He doesn't understand Donnie at all, but seems happy with what he's done, and his own revenge taking is it's own sort of protest, rejecting the status quo which allowed his brother's death.

Director Joseph Sargent does a passable job, telling the story in straightforward style. The scenery and settings ring true and build the secluded environment believably. The car chases and action sequences are exciting enough, but the focus is always squarely on Burt Reynolds who gives a great performance here. The character work is interesting, particularly Gator's relationship with Cap Simms, which shows that Gator has no deep grudge against "the system" thriving in prison as easily as he does outside. Sargent doesn't attempt anything flashy or elaborate to make his mark on the film, and it's not surprising to me that he's primarily a director of TV movies, as this could easily fit within the TV movie style. It's no insult in my opinion when I don't notice a director, it can just mean that he focused on telling the story, which is true here I think.

Reynold's gives a terrific lead performance, alternately subtle and over the top. His character is uneducated, but you get the sense that in his own way, he's always thinking. It's easy to see why he was such a big name in the movies, and a different world from "Cannonball Run" He's a fine actor and shows it here. Ned Beatty is also great here, playing the backwater menacing Sheriff perfectly. In a perfect world roles like this would ease "Deliverance" associations that follow Beatty around. A fine job, and he presents a believably real danger, playing a man who's unbelievably mean spirited, although he believes in service of his community.

"White Lightning" ends up being a story about what's personally acceptable, and what changing times do to us as people. It's smart enough to present change as good and bad. Although we make forward progress, we lose some things too, but if we don't adapt, we die. Sheriff Connors used moonshine to help his officers buy the things they need for their families. But, Connors also thought nothing of killing a college kid who organized a protest and insisted on his rights. The film doesn't present the federal government as the solution, pointing out that they couldn't do a thing against the sheriff, if Gator wasn't willing to help. The federal government's laws are simply a condition, which here Gator uses for his own ends. In this case a change is necessary. In Gator's personal case, if he observed the traditional "don't work with the feds" rule, he would not have been able to reach the sheriff at all. His adaptability is what makes him a threat and gives him the right thing to say when he has a knife up to his neck. Some things are bigger than us, but like it or not, we have to deal with them somehow.

What Happens?

The tagline for "White Lightning" was "Meet the Bayou's baddest good ol' boy." This of course refers to Burt Reynold's who plays good 'ol boy in some respects, but adds a bit to the stereotypes. Filmed in 1973, it's the product of a different time, a fact that even then, was a big part of the film.

Monday, October 18, 2010

In Bruges

Most movies about hit men take them very seriously presenting them as almost an amoral  force of nature. But, even a hit man has to start somewhere. "In Bruges" is a movie that shows two hit men not on the job, but recovering from one, in hiding, in Bruges, Belgium. In this dark comedy, they are not inhuman killing machines, but regular guys. who squabble about sightseeing, and wrestle with ethical dilemmas just like anyone else. (but more so)

Ray (Colin Farrell) reflects in voice over,
"After I killed him, I dropped the gun in the Thames, washed the residue off me hands in the bathroom of a Burger King, and walked home to await instructions. Shortly thereafter the instructions came through - "Get the fuck out of London, you dumb fucks. Get to Bruges." I didn't even know where Bruges fucking was. It's in Belgium.

Ray and his partner, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) immediately start arguing over what Bruges will be like. Ken asking Ray to wait until they see it to pass judgement, Ray insisting that he knows it'll be a "shithole." Ken leads the way, clearly having more information than Ray does. When they check in at a local Inn and find rather than two rooms, that they have one twin room and it's reserved for two weeks, Ray gets more upset, finding that length of time unbearable already. Ken is calm, but Ray is very high strung, but nevertheless they start a tour of the city canals by boat. Ken enjoys taking in all the sights, while Ray takes every opportunity to complain. Ken decides to check out a tower with a great overhead view of Bruges, but Ray declines to go.
Ray: What's up there?
Ken: The view.
Ray: The view of what? the view of down here? I can see that from down here.
Ken: Ray, you're about the worst tourist in the whole world.
Ray: Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I'd grown up on a farm and was retarded it might impress me. But, I didn't, so it doesn't.

Ken shakes his head and goes up himself, leaving Ray downstairs to wait. Ray manages to upset an overweight American Family by suggesting the windy stairs to the top of the tower might not be ideal for them. When they press him on what he means by that he says, "You're a bunch of fucking elephants" The American chases Ray around before running out of breath. Ken enjoys the view and runs into the Americans when he comes back down, adding to their offense by good naturedly cautioning them that the climb is really narrow.  He glares at Ray, realizing he must have already upset the family.

Ken and Ray visit a pub and discuss their situation. Ray suggests that they call their employer, Harry,  tomorrow and say "thanks for the trip, but we're going back to London to hide." Ken suggests that they stick to the instructions and quietly sight see until Harry calls. He suggests to Ray, that they may not be simply hiding out  but could be there to do a job, pointing out that sending them to Bruges to hide out is over elaborate when there are many closer places they could do that. Ray agrees and points out that they don't have guns. Ken tells him "Harry can get guns anywhere."

They return back to the room to wait for a call, where Ken calmly reads and Ray gets impatient again. He suggests they go to a pub, but Ken won't entertain the idea. Ray changes his approach and suggests that they go look at buildings, as they must look better at night, "all lit up and that." They encounter a film crew in the street, causing Ray to exclaim "They're filming midgets!" meaning Jimmy (Jordan Prentice). His attention is immediately drawn to Chloe (Clemence Poesy) who is working on the crew. To introduce himself, he asks "What are you filming midgets for?" She tells him a bit about the movie and he talks more about "midgets"
Ray: A lot of midgets tend to kill themselves. A disproportionate amount, actually. Hervé Villechaize off of Fantasy Island. I think somebody from the Time Bandits did. I suppose they must get really sad about like... being really little and that... people looking at them, laughing at them, calling them names. You know, "short arse". There's another famous midget. I miss him but I can't remember. It's not the R2D2 man; no, he's still going. I hope your midget doesn't kill himself. Your dream sequence will be fucked.
Chloë: He doesn't like being called a midget. He prefers dwarf.
Ray: This is exactly my point! People going around calling you a midget when you want to be called a dwarf. Of course you're going to blow your head off.
She laughs at his observations, and he gets her to agree to dinner tomorrow night.

At the hotel, the Inn keeper informs him that he has a message. He reads it;
"Number One, why aren't you in when I fucking told you to be in? Number Two, why doesn't this hotel have phones with fucking voicemail and not have to leave messages with the fucking receptionist? Number Three, you better fucking be in tomorrow night when I fucking call again or there'll be fucking hell to pay. I'm fucking telling you - Harry."

There's also a note from the Innkeeper, explaining that she's not a receptionist but the owner of the Inn along with her husband. Ray returns to the room and brags about his date tomorrow, although Ken pleads with him to turn off the light and let him sleep.

The next morning, Ken tells Ray they missed the call, sharing the note with Ray, who says "Jeez he swears a lot doesn't he?" Ken explains that they're staying in tonight, but Ray suggests that only one of them needs to stay in, reminding Ken of his date. Ken agrees but cautions him not to get in any trouble, and adds that in return they'll do what he wants all day.

Ken leads them to an old church, where Ray fidgets and complains. Ken points out an artifact in an attempt to interest Ray:
Ken: Up there, the top altar, is a vial brought back by a Flemish knight from the Crusades in the Holy Land. And that vial, do you know what it's said to contain?
Ray: No, what's it said to contain?
Ken: It's said to contain some drops of Jesus Christ's blood. Yeah, that's how this church got its name. Basilica of the Holy Blood.
Ray: Yeah. Yeah.
Ken: And this blood, right, though it's dried blood, at different times over many years, they say it turned back into liquid. Turned back into liquid from dried blood. At various times of great stress.
Ray: Yeah?
Ken: Yeah. So, yeah, I'm gonna go up in the queue and touch it, which is what you do.
Ray: Yeah?
Ken: Yeah. You coming?
Ray: Do I have to?
Ken: Do you have to? Of course you don't have to. It's Jesus' fucking blood, isn't it? Of course you don't fucking have to! Of course you don't fucking have to!

Ray takes off and waits outside while Ken waits to touch the vial. Sitting on a bench outside he sees Jimmy walk past and waves. Jimmy looks but doesn't wave back, angering Ray.  The man sitting on the other side of the bench has a dog which gives Ray a long look, prompting Ray to recall a memory of another church. In the memory Ray is in a confession booth, talking with a priest, who asks what he's done:
Ray: Murder, father.
Priest: Why did you murder someone, Raymond?
Ray: For money, father.
Priest: For money? You murdered someone for money?
Ray: Yes, father. Not out of anger. Not out of nothing. For money.
Priest: Who did you murder for money, Raymond?
Ray: You, father.
Priest: I'm sorry?
Ray: I said you, father. What are you, deaf?
Ray: Harry Waters says hello.

He shoots the priest many times as he attempts to leave the booth, but realizes when the priest falls that one of his shots has killed a little boy who was kneeling at the altar. Ray picks up the note the boy held in his hands to detail his "sins"  The note reads:
1. Being moody
2. Being bad at maths
3. Being Sad
Ray is shaking unable to deal with what he's done.

Back in present day, Ken and Ray are in a gallery looking at paintings. Ray finds one that he likes, "Judgment Day" by Bosch. He asks Ken about it.
Ken: It's Judgment Day, you know?
Ray: No. What's that then?
Ken: Well, it's, you know, the final day on Earth, when mankind will be judged for the crimes they've committed and that.
Ray: Oh. And see who gets into heaven and who gets into hell and all that.
Ken: Yeah. And what's the other place?
Ray: Purgatory.
Ken: Purgatory... what's that?
Ray: Purgatory's kind of like the in-betweeny one. You weren't really shit, but you weren't all that great either. Like Tottenham.
Ray: Do you believe in all that stuff, Ken?
Ken: About Tottenham?
Ray: The Last Judgment, the afterlife...guilt and sins and hell and...all that.

They find a bench and discuss belief. Ken points out the difficulty of believing in the afterlife while realizing that he has killed people. Ken says that most of them deserved it except for one guy who came at him with a bottle defending his brother. Ray points out that a bottle could've killed him, but Ken doesn't seem comforted. They devolve into a discussion about karate. Ray breaks down and starts talking to Ken about what's bothering him.
Ray: I killed a little boy! ...
Ken: You didn't mean to kill a little boy.
Ray: I know I didn't mean to. But, because of the choices I made and the course that I put into action, a little boy isn't here anymore and he'll never be here again. I mean here in the world, not here in Belgium. Well, he'll never be here in Belgium either, will he? I mean, he might have wanted to come here when he got older. I don't know why. And that's all because of me. He's dead because of me. And I'm trying to get my head around it, but I can't. I will always have killed that little boy. That ain't ever going away. Ever. Unless...maybe I go away.
Ken: Don't even think like that.

Later, Ken reads, while Ray gets ready for his date.  Trying to cheer him up Ken say "You look good." Ray responds "What's it matter anyway?"  Ray and Chloe discuss occupations at the restaurant.
Chloe: So what do you do?
Ray: I shoot people for money
Chloe: What kinds of people?
Ray: Priests, children. You know, the usual.
Chloe: Is there a lot of money to be made in that line of business.
Ray: There is in priests. There isn't in children. What is it you do Chloe?
Chloe: I sell cocaine and heroin to Belgian film crews.
Ray: Do you?
Chloe: Do I look like I do?
Ray: You do, actually. Do I look like I shoot people?
Chloe: No. Just children.

Ray tells Chloe about Jimmy ignoring him when he waved earlier. She explains that he's on a lot of horse tranquilizer. She tells him she's excited about the movie. Chloe appears insulted when he insults Bruges and Belgium, but then reveals that she wasn't really offended, just toying with him. While Chloe visits the restroom, another diner gets upset about him smoking, although they're in the smoking section. Knocking out the man, and then his girlfriend when she attacks him with a bottle. He tells Chloe they have to leave and he's afraid she thinks he hits women, pointing out that she had a bottle.

Ken gets a call from Harry and pretends that Ray is in the bathroom. Harry tells him to send Ray out for a half hour without looking suspicious. Ken pretends to do so. Harry has him double check. He mentions that he loved Bruges when he visited, describing it a "like a fairytale." Harry seems offended when Ken says that it might not be Rays's cup of tea. Harry can't understand how Bruges could not be anyone's "cup of tea." getting irate. Ken changes his approach saying that Ray has come to really like it, just having an initial hesitation. He makes up an unbelievable quote from Ray telling Harry he said "Ken, I know I'm awake, but I feel like I'm in a dream."
"Like in a good dream?" Harry asks. "Yeah, of course, like in a good dream"
Harry then says. "Good. I'm glad he likes it. I'm glad we were able to give him something. Something good and happy. Because he wasn't a bad kid, was he?"
It dawns on Ken, what Harry is saying. Harry gives him an address to pick up a gun and asks him to give him a call "when it's done."
Ken: When what's done?
Harry: Are you being thick?
Ken: No.
Harry: Listen. I like Ray. he was a good bloke, but when it all come down to it, you know, he blew the head off a little fucking kid. And you brought him in, Ken. So, if the buck doesn't stop with him, where does it stop?
Ken agrees but obviously is troubled by the assignment.

Ray is back at Chloe's place, in bed. He's surprised when a man comes in and holds a gun to his head. He takes the gun from the man, which causes him to pull out a knife. Chloe warns him that the gun has blanks in it. making Ray suspicious of her. Ray fires a blank in the man's face, incapacitating him. Chloe, when questioned, reveals that the guy used to show up to rob tourists she lured there, but she had told him not to come tonight. She takes her injured partner to the hospital, but insists before leaving that Ray call her. He finds some of Chloe's hidden drugs.

Ken goes out and starts drinking beer, He runs into Jimmy at the bar and compliments him on the girl his with. Jimmy tells him that she's a prostitute. Ray comes in and explains that he's done a gram of coke and has four more that he stole. He finds Jimmy making out with his prostitute and interrupts him demanding an explanation for not waving. He offers them his drugs and they all go to a room to do them. Ray, shares his observation on "midgets killing themselves" with Jimmy and asks if he's ever thought about it. Jimmy of course gets offended. Ray asks if Harry has called, but Ken tells him no. Jimmy, totally stoned, shares a theory on the war coming between the whites and blacks, explaining that you don't get to choose the side you're on. Ken tells Jimmy that his wife was black, killed by a white man, also revealing that Harry Waters killed the man who did it, which leaves Jimmy unable to tell him which side he would fight on. "Two manky hookers and a racist dwarf. I think I'm heading home."  Ray goes with him, giving Jimmy a karate chop when he tries to grab the remaining cocaine.

Ray wakes in the morning to find Ken out. Ken is meeting the man with the guns, Yuri. (Eric Godon) He gives Ken a gun with a silencer. Yuri tells Ken that there are lots of "alcoves" unsure whether that's the right English word. Ken tells him that alcoves is the word, and when questioned by Yuri as to whether he's going to do it, he responds that "it's what he does." Ken returns to the hotel and the inn keeper tells him that Ray was acting oddly. Ray had asked her about the baby (she's pregnant) and then gave her 200 euros to give to the baby and said he was going to the park.

Ken finds Ray in the park and watches from a distance, getting his gun ready to kill him. He approaches from behind, but before he reaches him he sees that Ray has a gun of his own which he puts up to his head. Rather than shoot him he tells Ray not to do it. Ray realizes that Harry was going to kill him. They go discuss the situation and Ken tells him he wasn't going to go through with it. He takes the gun from Ray and tells him he's not giving it back. He tells Ray, he's going to give him some money and put him on a train, prompting Ray to start sobbing.
Ray: I killed a little boy!

Ken: Then save the next little boy. Just go away somewhere, get out of this business, and try to do something good. You're not going to help anybody dead. You're not going to bring that boy back. But you might save the next one.
Ray: What am I going to be, a doctor? You need exams.

Ken reveals that Bruges was Harry's plan to give him one last nice memory. Ken sees him to the train, where he reveals that the hit he did was his first job. Ken calls Harry and tells him that Ray is on a train and if he has a problem with it to come to Bruges and do his worst. We see Harry (Ralph Fiennes) beating up the phone. His wife interrupts him, saying "It's an inanimate fucking object!"
Harry: You're an inanimate fucking object!
He tells his wife and kids that he's leaving to attend to "a matter of honor" and apologizes for calling her an inanimate object.
Ken is at the hotel getting dressed up.Ray is on the train when an attendant approaches him telling him he "heet the Canadian" He discovers that the couple he beat up in the restaurant is on the train. He tells Ray they're returning him to Bruges. Harry is already in Bruges, meeting with Yuri. The skinhead, Eirik, that Ray blinded with the blank is also there with a patch over his eye. Yuri offers Harry "dim dims"
Yuri: I also have some dim-dims. You use this word, dim-dims? The bullets that make the head explode?

Harry: Dum-dums. Yeah.
Yuri: Would you like some of these dim-dims?
Harry: I know I shouldn't... but I will.

Eirik,  explains his predicament to Harry, describing what happened in hopes of sympathy. Harry responds however by saying "To be honest it sounds like it was all your fault."
Eirik: What?
Harry: I mean basically, if you're robbing a man and you're only carrying blanks, and you allow your gun to be taken off you, and you allow yourself to be shot in the eye with a blank, for which I assume the person has to get quite close to you, then, yeah really it's all your fault for being such a poof. So why don't you stop whingeing and cheer the fuck up?
Eirik gets up as if to defend himself. Yuri cautions him not to respond. Eirik looks confused and says, "I thought you wanted the guy dead?"
Harry:  I do want the guy dead. I want him fucking crucified. But, it don't change the fact that he stitched you up like a blind, little gay boy. Does it?

Harry thanks Yuri for the gun and sets off to meet with Ken, who he finds sitting at a cafe waiting for him. Harry sits down at the table and glares at Ken. Ken explains that Ray is suicidal. Harry isn't moved and remarks:
When I phoned you yesterday, did I ask you,  "Ken, will you do me a favor and become Ray's psychiatrist please?"  No. What I think I asked you was "Could you go blow his fucking head off for me?" Ken explains that he prevented Ray from killing himself. Harry can hardly believe this, seeing that as solving everyone's problem. Ken insists that it wouldn't have solved Ray's problem. Harry says
"Ken, if I had killed a little kid, accidentally or otherwise, I wouldn't have thought twice. I'd have killed myself on the fucking spot. On the fucking spot."
Ken tells tells Harry that unlike them, Ray still has the capacity to do something decent with his life. Harry demands to know where Ray is, but Ken of course has no idea.

Chloe has lent Ray money for bail, which she tells him not to worry about. Ken suggests that Harry do what he has to do and recommends they go up to the bell tower to get away from the crowd. Chloe and Ray kiss as she tries to convince him to stay with her. Ken and Harry pass right by them as they kiss, headed to the bell tower. The bell tower turns out to be closed, due to the fact that an American had a heart attack yesterday. The attendant doesn't respond rudely poking Harry in the forehead when he tries to pay him generously to open it. Ken beats the man and they go up anyway. Outside Eirik sees Chloe and Ray at a table. Jimmy stops by as well, dressed as a schoolboy for the movie, and Ray apologizes for karate chopping him. Jimmy remarks that it would be easier to forgive him, if he and Chloe weren't laughing right in his face. He defends his clothes as being for the movie, and they nod trying to stop laughing.

On the walk up the tower stairs, Ken tells Harry he's glad he got to see Bruges before he died. He puts his gun down refusing to fight. Harry puts his gun to Ken's head, and tells him to pick up the gun. Ken refuses saying "I'm totally in your debt." He tells Harry he loves him for his integrity and his honor, but he had to let Ray go, and for that he accepts whatever Harry has to do. Harry responds,
"Well, you say all that fucking stuff, I can't fucking shoot you now, can I?" Ken tells him it's his call but he's not fighting. Harry settles for shooting Ken in the leg.

Ken, Chloe and Jimmy are talking and Jimmy invites them to the set, despite Ray needling him about the war between the whites and blacks. Eirik approaches Chloe and Ray, but rather than say anything he runs off to find Harry. Harry is helping Ken down the stairs, when Eirik reaches him telling Harry that Ray is downstairs. Ken now attempts to fight with Harry to keep him from going after Ray. In the struggle he ends up getting shot in the neck. He tells Ken he's sorry, but "you can't kill a kid and expect to get away with it." Ken grabs a gun and heads back for the top of the tower as Harry goes the other way after Ray. Ken throws himself from the top to warn Ray and to give him his gun. Since Ray's busy looking at Chloe, Ken throws coins to the ground to make sure the crowd below is looking and jumps. He manages to tell Ray that Harry's there and to take his gun before he dies. Ray is distraught of course, but Harry soon arrives to chase him through the streets.

Ray loses him for a bit and gets back to the hotel, demanding the key to their room and telling the Inn keeper to go home immediately. Ray finds his own gun and Ken's Last will and testament. From the top of the stairs, Ray sees that Harry is arguing with the Inn keeper who refuses to let Harry upstairs. Ray tells Harry to promise not to start shooting until the Innkeeper is gone. Harry promises, although the Innkeeper refuses to leave. Harry says "I suppose you've got a gun up there."
Ray: Yep.
Harry: Then what are we gonna do? We can't stand here all night.
Marie: Why don't you both put your guns down and go home?
Harry: Don't be stupid. This is the shootout...
Ray: Harry, I've got an idea.
Harry: What?
Ray: My room faces onto the canal right? I'm gonna go back to me room, jump into the canal, see if I can swim to the other side and escape.
Harry: Right.
Ray: If you go outside around the corner, you can shoot at me from there and try to get me. That way we leave this lady and her baby out of the whole entire thing.
Harry: Do you completely promise to jump into the canal? I don't want to run out there, come back in ten minutes and find you fucking hiding in a cupboard.
Ray: I  completely promise Harry. I'm not gonna risk having another little kid die am I?
Harry: So hang on, I go outside and then I go which way, right or left?
Ray: You go right, don't you? You can see it from the doorway! It's a big fucking canal!
Harry: Alright, Jesus! I've only just got here haven't I?

They agree on a count of one, two, three go, and that Ray will say it. Ray lands on a boat and Harry takes aim and shoots him, although Ray thinks he's too far away. Ray, now wounded gets off the boat a ways down the canal and runs through the streets with Harry chasing.  Ray ends up where the filming is happening and Jimmy sees him approaching, alarmed. Harry gets up behind him and Ray sobs, "The little boy..." Harry says, "That's right. The little boy" before shooting Ray again three times. Ray tries to crawl away, and Harry realizes that he shot Jimmy in the head. Since he used the dum dums, he can't see Jimmy's head, only the small body in the schoolboy uniform. Harry says. "Oh. I see." Ray tries to tell Harry that Jimmy is not a kid, but Harry says 'You've got to stick to your principles." and shoots himself in the head, "on the spot."

Ray is put on a stretcher as the people on the street including Chloe watch, he thinks:
"There's a Christmas tree somewhere in London with a bunch of presents underneath it that'll never be opened. And I thought, if I survive all of this, I'd go to that house, apologize to the mother there, and accept whatever punishment she chose for me. Prison... death... didn't matter. Because at least in prison and at least in death, you know, I wouldn't be in fuckin' Bruges. But then, like a flash, it came to me. And I realized, fuck man, maybe that's what hell is: the entire rest of eternity spent in fuckin' Bruges. And I really really hoped I wouldn't die. I really really hoped I wouldn't die. "

"In Bruges" is a dark comedy, and as such, it deals with some dark questions, finding humor in the absurdity of the situation and the conversations resulting. Despite their hit men in hiding status, it's made clear that Ken and Ray are really very close. The difference in the two men's outlooks is interesting to examine. Ken, the experienced hit man, is eager to enjoy Bruges, while Ray, does nothing but find reasons to complain about it. Ken tries to use his paternal influence to help Ray, although he himself is full of unsolved questions. He feels responsible for Ray's problem as he brought Ray into the job. He can't however, say anything to justify Ray's problem, as killing a kid, even accidentally is not something that will go away.

Ken agrees to kill Ray but can't stand by and just let him kill himself. As he mentions to Harry later on, he still believes that Ray could be something better than they are, while he and Harry have already decided on their limits, other than the possibility of getting worse. Ken sees a chance to correct the course which he helped steer Ray towards and perhaps atone for his own life. The fact is inescapable, that he has to defy Harry to do so, which is very sgnificant, as we know that Harry had killed his wife's murderer and possibly done many other things for Ken in the past.  He attempts to honor both loyalties, by telling Harry he'll take whatever punishment he sees fit.

Harry is an interesting figure in that he is utterly devoted to his principles, in contrast to the two hit men who are trying to puzzle things out, Harry doesn't ask questions, just follows his code all the way to the end. While Ken points out that Ray can't help the dead kid, but he could help the next one someday, Harry has no allowance for that, seeing the kid's death as something you "just can't" get away with, which Harry feels ust as strongly about, willing to kill Ken over it, (and himself) although he certinly doesn't want to.

The remarkable thing about this movie is how tightly woven it is. There are no "throwaway" scenes. The couple that Ray assaults in the restaurant, are not ust there for a moment of comic relief, they appear late on to get him kicked off the train, as if to remind us that everything has consequences. Ray blinds the skinhead, Eirik, with a blank, and it's Eirik who sees Ray is back in Bruges and tells Harry. Harry's remark that he's "shoot himself on the spot" if he killed a kid  is exploited. The fact that they're shooting a film and that Jimmy is a dwarf are both pivotal to the plot later. Ray romancing Chloe means that he makes bail later on. The view from the clock tower matters, as does warning the overweight family who insist on going up anyway. The fact that he really like her keeps him in the street so Harry can find him. Everything that happens, matters.

When i say that it's mostly dialogue, that's no insult, as it's great dialogue. Brendan Gleeson's Ken and Colin Farrell's Ray both deliver terrifically, showing not only their characters but the rapport they have with each other. The fact that Ray can discuss the fact that it appeared Ken was going to shoot him in the head, conveys their closeness in the strongest way possible. In this dark comedy, they both see the world as their own dark comedy. Ken comes across as gentle and proper, making it difficult to believe he's a hit man, if not for the fact that he could approach his best friend intending to kill him. Ray on the other hand is crass and hotheaded, reluctant to enjoy anything or sit still for a moment. We see quite clearly that despite his attempts at reckless bravado, he can't escape his guilt for long. Ralph Fiennes is brilliant here, although he comes in late in the picture (other than his voice) he takes charge of the scene, the first chance he gets. Building up the anticipation to his visit by the phone conversations, is a great effect and gives us the feeling that we've been waiting for his arrival. When he shows up, he doesn't disappoint. His straight delivery of harsh absurdities is like a fresh breath for the film, kicking it into motion the accelerated last act.

It's interesting that none of them, Harry, Ray or Ken, cares at all about the idea of killing people in general, only killing kids. Killing a priest isn't even mentioned, nor is any other murder except for Ken's one murder he regrets, which can be seen as self defense. Another interesting example of the tight plotting is Ray's justifying Ken's murder, because "you can kill somebody with a bottle" yet when the woman in the restaurant comes at him with a bottle, he seems barely threatened and almost effortlessly knocks her out. .Despite their profession, Ray and Ken don't seem like bad guys. Which allows the story to show us that everything has consequences, a fact reinforced by the tight plotting. Everything matters.

All three main characters must face the direct consequences of their actions. Ray killed a child. Accidentally or not he has to pay for it. Of this fact he is probably as certain as Harry is that he needs to be punished. It was an interesting touch to have Ray pick up the note from the boy's hand, it's simplicity and innocence, showing us that it's not possible for Ray to ever get over. We don't know if he would've killed himself if Ken hadn't stopped him, but we can believe it, and if not then maybe later. This is something that tortures him constantly and nothing will ever make up for it. Ken's actions were, bringing Ray into the business, and he himself feels indirectly responsible for what happened. When he tries to give Ray a second chance, he is also trying to reduce his own guilt. While he doesn't carry around the murder of the child, he sees Ray dying senselessly as a similar tragedy, which is a result of his actions. He also has to bear the consequences of defying Ray, who to hear Ken tell it, has been extraordinarily good to him. Harry himself although partly being the enforcer of the consequences, is not immune to them himself. He views life a little differently than the other two though, not concerned with anything but his own codes, so much so that when Ray tries to explain that Jimmy isn't a kid, he doesn't even listen, eager to prove that he lives by his principles. It's also interesting that while Ray is the "suicide case" he's the only one of the three that doesn't kill himself.

McDonagh couldn't have done a better job, particularly with a first film. Setting everything in Bruges was an interesting idea, the medieval setting playing a large part in the character's interactions as well as giving us the feeling that this particular play is happening on a smaller stage. The dialogue is sharp and never bores relying on the actors to keep us engaged, which they fulfill completely. Be forewarned that there is more profanity (language) in this movie than ten movies you pick at random, but it suits the story's dark humor perfectly and fits as an element of the characters' conversation not a contrived addition to it. It's also very funny, if you appreciate the dark humor.

Nothing happens in a vacuum, not even if you're secluded in Bruges. There are always consequences. They are largely within the men themselves. Although they aren't always aware of their choices, they still make them. If Ray hadn't beat up the couple in the restaurant he may have escaped from Bruges. If Ken had let Ray kill himself, he may have been off working on his next assignment. If Harry had been able to bend his principles slightly, trusting Ken's decision, he may have been able to get back to business. But they all made choices, and they all mattered. right up to their last ones, which revealed that if nothing else they were true to their convictions. Ken trying to help Ray, Harry in keeping his word and code, and Ray trying to tell Harry not to kill himself although it would certainly mean he himself would die, finally acknowledging some regard for life in general, other than just that of a kid, by placing more importance on the life of them man trying to kill him than his own. The implication of consequences is perhaps more effective by not being a lesson spelled out, but a consistent thread tying the whole film together.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


What About It?

There's no question that Michael Mann can make a crime film. The settings, sustained mood, the right focus on the city and skyline, music as a vital part of the setting, these are all staples in his bag of tricks which come through wonderfully here. The highways, helicopters, and palm trees all tell us part of the story. He leaves nothing to chance, at times using LA itself to draw attention to the movement of the characters. Mann is without a doubt a master of his craft.

The difference between Max and Vincent is told in how they see LA. Where Max sees it simply as Home, Vincent sees a place packed with people who can't see each other when they pass on the street. His prophetic story about a man dying on the LA subway tells us what he sees there and also what he sees in life. It's a view well suited for his choice of career.

While the chases and showdowns you expect from an action crime movie are here, the real work is in the characters and how they affect each other. This isn't an action movie but a drama dressed up with action. The car crash for example isn't about the crash as much as it is about the men getting out of the wreckage. You would think that a conscientious cab driver and a hit man would have little to offer each other, but each offers the other something significant which they perhaps didn't know they needed and wouldn't have gotten from anyone else. While it's heavily suggested that Vincent plans to kill max when he's done with his hits, he nonetheless takes a real interest in Max's life. There is something about Max that Vincent appreciates, which begins with realizing (as Annie did,) that he makes a point of being very good at what he does, which Vincent himself does.

His efforts to "help" Max come through, in spite of himself. Vincent sees a very competent man who doesn't insist on his own value. When he threatens Max's dispatcher and forces Max to tell him off, he's clearly making a point. He could easily let Max make up his own story, but he feels strongly that Max shouldn't be talked to that way. We don't know what Vincent's normal behavior is, but we can gather that trying to show a man he's planning to kill soon is not his usual pattern. He has justifications for what he does, but he takes his actions further than reason requires. When Max visits his mother, Vincent has no logical reason to force Max to bring flowers, but does, stating urgently "She carried you in her womb for nine months."
We learn that Vincent's own mother died in childbirth and this visit perhaps affects him profoundly. Vincent can kill a man for stealing his bag without hesitation, yet despite all the trouble he has with Max, he is repeatedly shown as not even considering that option in his case.
Vincent is at a kind of crossroads, possibly before meeting Max. His comment about the man who dies on the subway is perhaps a question he ponders in relation to himself, positioned as he is as the ultimate loner, cut off from everyone, with as anonymous an existence as possible. He paints himself as "indifferent." yet we see that there are things he does care about, like jazz. He admires the improvisation of it, seeing himself as an improviser of the highest order. He includes Max in his musing about it when he says: "Most people, 10 years from now, same job, same place, same routine, everything the same, just keeping it safe, over and over and over. Ten years from now? Man, you don't know where you'll be ten minutes from now."  He realizes that he's accurately described Max's existence.

We see that he's genuinely interested in Daniel's story of his one meeting with Miles Davis, which is ultimately another example of one the movies major themes, dreams that you don't make happen. It's possible that we're witnessing another example of Vincent's crisis, when he offers Daniel a chance to get away. We do wonder as Max does, if he would've honored his offer if he had given the answer he wanted, but whether he would've or not, it's telling that he considered it.  Max affects Vincent quickly in ways he doesn't realize. Vincent even has the opportunity to stand by and let Max get shot. Ultimately Vincent gets what he wants, "someone to notice" when he dies on the subway.

The change however, goes both ways. Vincent telling him that "twelve years isn't temporary" is perhaps exactly what he needs to hear. Despite his dislike of Vincent, he acknowledges that he's "never looked at it that way." when Vincent says "All it ever took was a down payment on a Lincoln town car. That girl,you can't even call that girl. What the fuck are you still doing driving a cab? " It bothers him that Max clings to this plan for "someday" when Vincent and Max on some level both know that he isn't treating his plan as a reality, thus ensuring that his cab driving has become his life, like Daniel the jazz man who no doubt, planned to get back to his music but settled for owning a club.

Max gets quite a few reminders of how short life is and we hope that he uses those reminders to put down the payment on the Lincoln Town Car. He at least gives the girl a call, although he had a huge push to do so. And he gets the chance to step outside his comfort zone and "improvise." proving that he's capable of doing so. If he hadn't met Vincent, we could easily see Max dreaming about his limo company forever, "making arrangements" until he accepts that it isn't going to happen and it becomes a "could've been."

It's interesting that of the many parties after Vincent (and Max) that no one can really affect him except Max. The detective who was posed to pull Max out of the situation is shot down as soon as Vincent sees him, as little more than a nuisance, because ultimately everything that happens in the film is what happens between the two men. Everything else is decoration to put them in the places they need to be. Here, that technique is remarkably effective, producing the needed tension to give their story the urgency desired for the two of them to be irrevocably changed in one night.

The acting here is all terrific. Jamie Fox carries his role competently, giving us a completely believable Max as a competent man, who is very good at "bullshitting himself."  Mark Ruffalo is very good as well, although his part, intentionally I'm sure, feels unresolved. Jada Pinkett Smith also does wonders with her little screen time, building a believable rapport with Max in minutes, despite the unlikeliness of it on the surface. But Tom Cruise is really what makes the film, his Vincent is such an intricate and fascinating character. I'm not at all a fan of Tom Cruise, but giving credit where it's due, I have to see it's a truly wonderful performance. As despicable as Vincent is, I still felt bad to see him left on the subway.

"Collateral" to me is a movie about the major things that happen as a result of meetings we don't expect to happen. Sometimes we know ourselves so well, that left to our own devices we simply do what we've always done. And while it's the last thing you want, an outside opinion affecting your life may be exactly what you need to make a change happen. Many people have dreams that go unfulfilled, and sometimes it is as simple as buying a Lincoln Town Car, or calling a girl on the phone, but left to your own devices, you'll only ever have what you yourself know is true. Many times that's what kept you where you are in the first place. Vincent's speech nicely sums up a tragedy that happens to people with dreams every day:
"One night you will wake up and discover it never happened. It's all turned around on you. It never will. Suddenly you are old. Didn't happen, and it never will, because you were never going to do it anyway. You'll push it into memory and then zone out in your barco lounger, being hypnotized by daytime TV for the rest of your life. Don't you talk to me about murder. All it ever took was a down payment on a Lincoln town car. That girl, you can't even call that girl. What the fuck are you still doing driving a cab? "

What Happens?

Vincent,(Tom Cruise) a serious looking man in sunglasses and a nice suit gets off a plane in Los Angeles and looks warily around while passing through. The crowd of people is presented as blurry except for another serious looking man (Jason Statham) walking towards Vincent.  Vincent "accidentally" bumps into the other man, causing both to drop their cases. After checking apologetically to see if the man's alright, the men pick up their bags each picking up the one the other dropped and go on their way.

Friday, October 8, 2010

King of New York

Certain celebrated criminals (Jesse James, John Dillinger) have become folk heroes in a way, likened to Robin Hood due to such behavior as robbing insured banks and giving money back to the poor, or sometimes just for fighting a system that many citizens feel is unfair. Whatever truth there is to such comparisons, is relative I would think. You can't erase a hundred murders because you gave some money to someone who needed it. It does remind us though, that there is often more to a character than a two dimensional sketch. "The King of New York" is a kind of Robin Hood" story, in a more realistic sense than most.

Our first look at Frank White (Christopher Walken) is in prison just before he's released on parole after serving a long stretch. Guards escort him outside where he's picked up in a limousine by two women, Raye (Theresa Randle) and Melanie (Carrie Nygren) Melanie lights him a cigarette and they ride quietly as Frank appears to be in heavy thought watching the prostitutes and other street dwellers. Raye asks him if he wants to stop and he replies "No." We flash from Frank's eyes to the city as he sees it at night. It doesn't look good.

At the same time, Emilio El Zapa takes a break from entertaining prostitutes and walks outside to use a payphone. Before he can make his call, he's blasted with shotguns by several men, one of whom shows the dead man a newspaper headline reading "Frank White Released From Prison"

Meanwhile, Test Tube (Steve Buscemi) and Jimmy Jump (Larry Fishburne) are in an apartment testing some cocaine they plan to buy. Jimmy bugs Test Tube to hurry it up, insisting that he can test it himself quicker. He snorts some of the cocaine leaving a bit on his nose. Jimmy attempts to negotiate with King Tito, whose cocaine they're testing. Tito ignores Jimmy's social conversation. When Test Tube gives it the OK, but Jimmy insists that they need to test more, Tito gets upset demanding his money, adding ten percent to the amount they agreed on for "transportation costs" Jimmy complains about it, but King Tito stands firm, telling him to "take it or leave it." Jimmy says he'll take it, and bows to King Tito before handing him a briefcase. Tito opens it to find it full of tampons. Jimmy says "They're for the bulletholes, puta." and he and Test Tube shoot Tito along with his bodyguards, taking the cocaine and the money.
Frank has arrived home at "The Plaza" where he showers and puts on his real clothes. Melanie and Raye are with him, both only partially dressed. He watches Melanie load a gun before putting it in her coat. Raye informs him that he has visitors, slipping a gun into his waistband as she tells him. Jimmy Jump, Test Tube and several others present themselves. Frank appears tense initially sternly asking Jimmy what he's drinking. He answers "Root Beer. Want some?" Frank answers "There's some things I don't do." before smiling and showing them a dance move, which lightens up everyone and starts congratulations on his release. Jimmy informs him that the Colombians are dead, and Frank says, "Wow. I must've been away too long because my feelings are dead. I feel no remorse." They present Frank with King Tito's gloves and Emilio Zapa's money. They joke with each other until Frank turns serious for a moment saying "Jim. How come you never came to see me?" Jimmy answers, "Who wanted to see you in a cage?" Frank nods as his gang leaves.
Frank meets his lawyer, along with Joey Dalesio (Paul Calderon) for dinner at a nice restaurant. Frank insists on visiting his lawyer's "junior partner" Jennifer (Janet Julian,) who is talking with a journalist, who has written many stories about Frank. Frank clearly disapproves and tells her "You should be more careful of the affairs you attend, counselor. One is known by the company one keeps." before seating himself at their table. When told by a woman at the table that she's heard a lot of bad things about him, he claims he's reformed and declares that he wants to be mayor. They laugh but he says "thinks I'm kidding." He also asks Joey to get him a meeting with mob boss Arty Clay (Frank Gio) While Joey leaves to do this,Frank talks with Jennifer (while flirting with her)about the legal process when she remarks that she didn't think he believed in it, he says "I thought guys like me were the legal process."
Joey shows up at Arty Clay's place and finds him involved in a poker game. Joey tells him that Frank wants a meeting. Arty tells Joey, "You tell him that I don't talk to nigger lovers."  Joey persists, ignoring the comment and asking where and when. Arty says "You tell him in fucking hell, that's where." and explains that he was making a lot of money from the Colombians. Arty kicks Joey out.
Frank meanwhile is taking an erotic subway ride with Jennifer. They have a car to themselves, when several thugs approach them demanding his watch and wallet. They grab Jennifer's purse and Frank shows them the gun in his waistband prompting them to return it. He then throws them a wad of cash and tells them he has work for them if they come by the Plaza Hotel and ask for Frank White. 
Frank then shows up at Arty's place with Melanie and Raye and tells Frank, again playing poker, "I got your message."  Arty says "You stupid son of a bitch." Franks says "You running games here? I want to play." One of the player's welcomes him to the table along with his friends but Frank say "Nah. I want to play with Arty. More of Franks crew enters as well and Frank start looking at the cards on the table, while Arty gets more angry and threatening. Frank throws a card at Arty and tells him to pick it up. He refuses so Frank does it for him showing him the Ace of Spades. He then tells Arty he wants in on everything that happens, down to a nickel bag sold in the park. Arty laughs and Frank says "You guys got fat while everybody starved in the street. It's my turn." Frank turns to leave, when Arty threatens him, prompting Frank to turn back around and shoot him dead. He then tells everyone else at the table to come to the Plaza Hotel and join him if they're tired of getting ripped off by guys like Arty.
Frank next runs into a councilman at a play he attends with Jennifer. Frank is upset that a South Bronx hospital failed to get funding. The councilman explains that he did the best he could but the money wasn't there. He suggests to Frank that if he's so concerned he should fund it himself. Frank says "Maybe I will." prompting the congressman to tell him the hospital needs 16 million by the end of the quarter. Frank says, "Tell your friends they'll have their money." Frank tells the councilman "Privileged districts shouldn't be the only ones with hospitals." Frank is confronted at the bar by three cops, Roy Bishop (Victor Argo,) Thomas Flanigan, (Wesley Snipes,) and Dennis Gilley (David Caruso) They escort him outside and into their car, over his lawyer's protests. They claim to be taking him in for questioning, but instead bring him to a dark alley where they show him Zapa's body in the trunk of the car. He claims he doesn't know anything about it although Bishop tells him it's his last chance to talk. Flanigan gets upset about his refusal and tries to intimidate Frank, who knocks him around before the other two step in. Gilley puts a gun to his face, but Bishop stops him from shooting. They get in the car and leave, Bishop warning that they're on to him and planning to shut him down.
Bishop, Flanigan and Gilley attend a wedding, where Gilley makes jokes with everyone and Bishop appears uncomfortable, reaching for his heart pills and leaving early in physical distress. Frank sends Joey to meet with Larry a mob boss in Chinatown. Larry isn't eager to deal with Frank, mentioning that he's no Arty Clay. Jimmy Jump goes into a  fast food place for lunch, and ends up getting jumped by the cops who arrest him for King Tito's murder, telling him that one of the bodyguards lived and they have a witness. 
Frank invites Larry to the South Bronx hospital. He offers to partner with Larry providing his manpower to push Larry's drugs, greatly increasing his profit. Larry tells him "If I was into socialized medicine, I would've stayed in the Peking province."  Larry tells him he's only interested in cash for his drugs. He leaves telling Frank he's crazy. Frank hears about Jimmy's arrest and the surviving witness. He arranges to have Jimmy's million dollar bail paid, against Jennifer's advice. Jimmy harasses the three cops outside the police station who show up as he's leaving. Gilley spits in Jimmy's face. Jimmy laughs it off and the cops attempt to intimidate Jennifer who tells them to take it to the judge.
Not wasting any time, Frank's crew goes after Larry next, killing his men and making him show them where his drugs are, before killing him too. Frank then sets up a televised fundrasier for the hospital featuring the singer Freddie Jackson. This outrages Bishop, Flanigan and Gilley. Gilley comments that Frank's a movie stair. He offers a sarcastic toast to Frank being "The King of New York." comparing their salaries to Frank's.  Gilley tells Bishop that there's only one way to get rid of Frank. When Bishop doesn't agree right away he tells him they can make it look like another gang. Bishop appears hesitant, asking Gilley if he's going to kill everyone he can't arrest. He counters that everyone Frank kills is their fault.
Frank and Jennifer take a moment outside looking at the New York skyline. He tells her that he's lost too much time and can't waste any more. "If I can have a year or two, I'll make something good. I'll do something. Something good." Bishop confronts Frank's lawyer at breakfast, giving him bloody photos of the Colombian murder victims. Later that night Frank and his crew parties at a secret nightclub.  Joey comes in with with a prospective drug buyer, who is actually a plant who lead Gilley and Flanigan and their crew to the nightclub. The cops come in disguised and start firing away, killing most of Frank's crew.
Frank gets in his car and grabs Jimmy who unmasks one of the attackers discovering they're cops. Gilley and Flanigan trade shots with Frank and Jimmy while they drive, smacking cars into each other as well. Gilley end up flipping his car over, losing Frank. The two cops sit in the car which won't start assuming that Frank is gone. Jimmy returns in a car and rams into them, flipping it over again. The cops leave the car to chase him on foot and Jimmy surprises Flanigan, shooting him half a dozen times. Gilley sees it happen too late and shoots Jimmy several times leaving him lying on the ground while he unsuccessfully attempts to revive Flanigan. Even in severe pain Jimmy won't stop laughing until Gilley can't take it anymore and shoots him in the head.  
Bishop and Gilley attend Flanigan's funeral, but Gilley attempts to leave early and finds his car won't start. Frank pulls up next to the car in a limousine and calls "Hey.You."  shooting Gilley in the face with a shotgun when he looks up. All of cops at the funeral are surprised and scramble to see what happened. Bishop sees the limo driving away. Frank heads back to his crew and we see that Joey is being beaten for his part in leading the cops to them. He claims they gave him references which checked out and he had no reason to suspect them. Frank doesn't buy it and say. "Just tell me why. Don't lie to me and just tell me why."  He breaks down and tells Frank that they offered him more money than he'd ever seen in his life and to set him up in the protection program. Frank asks where the money is and they inform him that they have it as he was carrying it around. Frank says, "Bury it with him." Joey apologizes and begs until they drag him off and shoot him.
Bishop arrives home to his dark apartment and finds Frank sitting in a chair in the dark. Frank explains his problems with the dead gang leaders.
Frank: When the D.A's office investigated the sudden death of Arty Clay, they found that he left a $13 million estate. How do you explain that? There there's Larry Wong, who owned half of Chinatown when he passed away. Larry used to rent his tenements to Asian refuges, his own people, for $800 a month to share a single toilet on the same floor. How 'bout King Tito? He had thirteen-year-old girls hooking for him on the street. Those guys are dead because I don't want to make money that way. Emil Zappa, the Mata brothers, they're dead because they were running this city into the ground.
Bishop: You expected to get away with killing all these people?
Frank: I spent half my life in prison. I never got away with anything, and I never killed anybody that didn't deserve it.
Bishop: Who made you judge and jury?
Frank: Well, it's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. For the likes of Arty Clay and the rest of those bums...you slap a tag on me for fifty thousand dollars? You make me public enemy number one? Is that some kind of joke? I got a message for you and your friends.You tell them I've got a $250,000 contract on any cop involved with this case.

He has Bishop handcuff himself to a chair and leaves. Bishop scrambles to find a gun and shoots the cuff chain and chases Frank into the subway finding him in one of the cars. Frank takes a nearby woman hostage holding a gun to her head. Bishop doesn't back off and Franks surprises him, shooting and killing him, although Bishop gets off a last shot. Frank leaves the subway and walks up to the street into the crowd holding a hand inside his coat on his bullet wound. He gets in a cab and tells the driver "Just drive." We see him in the back seat pulling out his gun and examining his bloody shirt as sirens approach from all over. The driver sees his gun and leaves the car, while cops approach on foot through now stopped traffic, approaching the car cautiously with guns drawn. Frank lays his head down and his hand, still holding the gun drops limp beside him.

"The King New York" is an interesting look at a man who wants to be much better than he is. Frank White is as much (or more) of a killer as any of his competition. He reasons that he's never killed anybody who didn't deserve it. and his victims in the movie do prove his point to a degree. He can't abide the powerful criminals who weaken their community and his contempt for their selfishness is clear. Watching the people in the streets going without has an immediate effect on him and his resolve to help his community puts his character in the Robin Hood tradition. His crew seems to share his compassion for their surroundings, as evidenced by Jimmy Jump making a donation to a mother in a restaurant just before his arrest and the fact that they don't kill anyone indiscriminately, only those who Frank picks out as draining the community. It's interesting to watch Frank and Larry taking a tour of the hospital as Frank tries to sell the "cause" angle of his proposed partnership. Larry equates Frank's idea to "socialized medicine." which is an interesting commentary on the difference in Frank's motivation, framing their dispute as a capitalist/socialist debate. Of course it isn't truly as simple as that, but viewing the Robin Hood story as one of a passionate socialist is certainly an interesting approach.

It's worth keeping in mind though, that Frank himself is a capitalist, and has no trouble posting one million dollars to bail Jimmy out of jail. He doesn't leave himself impoverished to give to others. He isn't looking to equalize everyone's resources, but he reasons that for all the money the drug dealers make, giving something back to the community isn't much too ask, and perhaps even a sensible business move. He does see himself as part of the city, rather than an untouchable crime boss high above the common man.  He despises racism as much as greed, embracing the racially mixed culture of his surroundings. Frank's crew is mostly young black men and he doesn't make color distinctions, except in the case of Arty, where he makes a point of showing Arty the "Ace of Spades" to answer Arty's remark that he's a "nigger lover" Of course killing him soon after also states his position clearly.

Frank isn't joking when he claims that he wants to be mayor. But the position isn't what he's after, but the power to affect the city. It's likely that Frank would be content to be in control whether officially in power or not, as suggested by his dealings with his councilman, and specifically his frustration over the lack of results towards the hospital. Bureaucracy is also a problem in "The King of New York." The struggles are first pointed out with the Councilman, but later frustration with legal protocol is what incites the cops to step outside the law and attempt to shut Frank down. When Gilley and Flanigan organize their fellow cops as a disguised hit squad, they enter squarely into Frank's moral grey area, although their motives are vindictive, unintentionally giving Frank the moral high ground. Gilley's main problem seems to be that he wishes he was Frank. Watching the hospital telethon, not one of the cops notes that helping the local hospital is a worthy cause, they only see their enemy getting positive attention and Gilley can't stand to see him celebrated, while he and his fellow cops work without recognition of any kind. Their problem and proposed solution could also be argued as socialist, as they resent Frank's earning and achieving more than they do. It's obvious however that these positions won't unite them, and it illustrates that Frank is truly not the socialist, merely community minded.

Bishop plays the voice of reason, although a biased and ineffective one. He's willing to bend the rules a bit, ie. coercing a confession from Frank over a body in the trunk, but he quickly attempts to deescalate the situation when Flanigan and Gillis get out of hand. While he doesn't condone his partner's attempting an assassination, his discouragement of their idea is weak, desiring Frank off the streets, but still recognizing that their job has limits. None of them see the irony that they plan to kill a drug lord illegally, to punish him for killing drug lords illegally. When Frank points out the reason for killing the other drug lords, it fails to register with Bishop, who can only tell him that he won't get away with killing all those people. He could've easily said the same thing to his partners, who probably killed as many people in their raid on Frank's place as Frank had killed in the movie. He does ask Gilley "Are you going to kill everyone you can't arrest?" although Gilley lacks the depth to understand the question.  Perhaps Bishop thinks that not joining their raid is dissent enough, but this proves false when Frank announces the bounty he's placed on Bishop's head. Bishop's failure is that he doesn't see the larger implications of personal actions. When he tells Frank, during their subway stand off, "This is just you and me." he demonstrates how wrong he is. just as Frank does by taking an innocent woman hostage. It isn't just about the two of them, their conflict is all about their community and as far as Frank goes, his altruism isn't above hostage taking, and both of them pay the price for their flaws each cancelling the other out.

Ferrara does an amazing job creating a realistic unpolished city for his story, using the actual city to portray itself. Within the city he presents a varied environment, from the lush Plaza hotel, to the subway cars and nightclubs. This gives the characters a great realism themselves, and we sense that no one is untouchable here and no plan is fool proof. Although the cast is terrific, this is Walken's show and it's great to see him get the spotlight. He's an actor who takes over every scene he's in. Even when he's subdued there's no question who the scene is about. Frank is a combination of loud flamboyant action and deep personal thought. The close ups on his eyes give us the sense that he's struggling with something important and constantly trying to think things through. He's rehearsed his every gesture in his head and does very little spontaneously. He invites Larry to the hospital to offer an opportunity, but has no doubt already planned the massacre of his gang when he refuses. Yet even Frank is limited and he knows this, feeling the loss of all the time in prison.

We can't call Frank a good man, as even his attempts to do good require violence and destructive behavior to happen. Neither can we say he's completely bad, as he does have some wonderful goals, even if his methods are questionable. The real test of his worth is to examine what effects his actions have on those around him. Most of his crew ends up dead, and the hospital doesn't get their money. A few reprehensible drug dealers are put out of work, but as Frank would point out, someone will replace them before long. Ultimately his methods don't work well towards his goals, beyond putting some money in a few people's pockets for the brief amount of time they're likely to live. Of course, Frank isn't alone in this predicament, nobody in this film lives up to their own ideals. Bishop, Flanigan and Gillis, give up their own code and like Frank become victims of their own bad methods. Nobody is safe in this world, everyone gets consumed by not managing to be what they imagine they are. Good doesn't win, and neither does evil. Capitalism and Socialism find a similar stalemate. Nobody wins here, it all gets cancelled out, because no one is as pure as they think they are and every effort gets lost in compromise or overkill.