A superb drama that is part murder-mystery, part portrait of harsh inner-city life. Mehki Phifer is Strike, a twenty-year-old clocker (a stationary drug dealer), and Isaiah Washington is Victor, his hard working brother. When the local drug lord, Delroy Lindo, suggests that Strike murder a clocker, the mystery ensues. Victor confesses to the crime, saying it was self-defense…but is he merely covering for his younger brother? The performances are very strong throughout, although Lindo is a standout as the fatherly drug lord. The most problematic character is Harvey Keitel’s cop Rocco Klein. Why, amid all the inner city murders, does he latch onto this one, determined to find answers? Although in many ways, he is the film’s protagonist, he is never given adequate motivation for his search for the truth. The cinematography is stunning in this film…the gritty street scenes, the bright and dark recesses of the interrogation chamber, and the otherworldly glow of a potential way out. The writing, while vulgarity-strewn, does have several good touches, from Strike’s ulcer mirroring his inner turmoil, to subtle criticism of the race-specific marketing of products like “The Bomb” malt liquor. And while grim and bleak in parts, the film does offer the prospect of hope.
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