Saturday, 21 February 2009

Review: King of New York

King of New York, released in 1990 is a real era-film, and one that has not aged terribly well at that. Its stylistic flourishes are similar to 1994's The Crow, and like that film, tries gainfully to create a menacing atmosphere with a dark palette broken by splashes of lurid colour. It only partially succeeds. Part of this success is thanks to Christopher Walken, who bestrides the film with menace and power as Frank White, the King of the title.

White is a latter-day Robin Hood, who has his fingers in various cocaine pies across New York. He wants to use his ill-gotten proceeds to save a hospital that is threatened with closure due to lack of funds, as he sees it as a crucial part of the neighbourhood - little matter that his spurious dealings supply half of the patients.

The film paints a powerful picture of Frank, a man who occupies a residence at the Plaza Hotel, who mixes with the hoodlums, but also the politicians. There are some ideas worthy of exploration here - the man at ease in both politics and gang culture, trying to haul New York forward. The police don't agree with his methods, but seem helpless to stop him. There are echoes of modern day cop shows, highlighting the difficulty police have in taking down lawless drug kingpins while slaloming between waves of red-tape and due process.

The young, swashbuckling cops ignore the tape, and get killed. But the wise old Chief Bishop seems to have accepted his fate at the hands of gangsters like Frank from the first scene. He pops pills incessantly, staving off nature; his trudging gate and furrowed brow seem to betray a helplessness at the white tide overcoming his city. He leaves his fellow cop's wedding early, seemingly to philosophise on the hopelessness of it all in the corner of a dark room somewhere. Though a wreck, he is determined not to let Frank win. The shambling, bedraggled cop versus the elegant, sophisticated criminal is an oft-repeated motif (see Columbo, The French Connection), but it provides dramatic impetus here in a pit of unlikeable characters.

The film is disjointed, however. Ruthless cuts were made in order to lower the certificate for theatrical release. As a result, the film is oddly proportioned; Frank's love interest, a city councillor seems to disappear half way through. And after the Collateral-like finale on a Subway train, the film seems, like Frank, to ramble aimlessly before its silent end.

Worth watching, but not worth buying. If only for Laurence Fishburne's super-fly homeboy.


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