Spike Lee can't necessarily claim to be the most subtle filmmaker, in fact he seems dead-set on attaining and retaining the title of "auteur," taking that extra step to inform the viewer that it is *indeed* a Spike Lee "joint." Fans of his films know exactly what I mean. And, of course, his showmanship is evident. But collaborating with famed novelist Richard Price for a gritty indictment of black-on-black crime, the inner-city crack plague, and the oddly symbiotic relationship among drug-dealers and police in the Brooklyn Projects, has resulted in (if not his best, then) certainly his most mature film to date.
Listen, I like Spike, I've kept up with every movie of his so far, excluding "She Hate Me". But even a seasoned veteran such as he can get better with literary influence. So much so, that the story in "Clockers" completely overrides Spike's typically gimmicky visual tricks and (this is why I'm most proud of this film) his unabashed preachiness he seems to need to constantly insert in his projects. The biting dialogue is there: "Black man say he didn't do sun-in, you don't believe him. Black man say he DID do sun-in, you still don't believe him." However, Lee manages these thematics seamlessly into the plot's progression with a curious mixture of intuition and force.
Lee shifts the focus of Price's novel from Rocco to Strike, a young African-American "clocker" (round-the-clock crack dealer) looking to rise in the drug-trade ranks, run by his makeshift mentor Rodney Little (a blistering, cunning performance by Delroy Lindo). Rodney -- persuasive as all hell -- asks/tells Strike to off a worker in a fast-food restaurant for limiting Rodney's dealing options. Hours later, the guy is dead but the crime is not shown. When Strike's older brother Victor (Isaiah Washington) confesses to police, hardened Detective Rocco Klein (suitably dependable Harvey Keitel) doesn't buy it and begins to suspect Strike instead.
As the investigation deepens, unexpected character traits emerge. Strike -- initially seeming hard, ignorant, and aimless -- actually wears that very facade to mask the fact he's really a scared kid unsure of a future. This fear and stress that accompanies his job has manifested physically as a bad stomach ulcer that makes him double over and expel blood through the latter half of the film. Victor -- the apparently virtuous, job-holding, mannerly, father-of-two -- eventually reveals a dangerous level of resentment and hatred buried deep but slowly working its way to the surface.
The "homo-cide" squad are first portrayed as racist, uncaring kingpins -- not too unlike Rodney -- that laugh and joke over bodies at the crime scene. Then Rocco and his team (John Turturro and Michael Imperioli) make unexpected business deals with Strike involving crackdowns and kickbacks. Most revealing (and rather humorous) is that the large number of customers for crack in the housing project are middle-class or affluent white people.
What separates this "hood movie" from the majority are the contradictory surprises. Unexpected, yet certainly believable. Without giving spoilers, Strike's saving grace ends up being the police he always tries to avoid. He even asks Rocco (in what I believed would be the film's disastrous downfall) what made him care about some random "nigga killing," and I was ready for Spike to throw the whole flick away on Keitel's response... The response given is one of the most honest, heartbreaking, and realistic lines of screenwriting I've come across yet. Bravo, Price and Lee.
Accolades to the soundtrack. This is one of the smartest batch of tracks Lee has assembled for a film of his, and they enunciate the dreaded and narrow confines of inner-city life without drowning you in third-rate gangsta rap. In fact, all the hip-hop tracks (especially KRS-ONE's "Outta Here") are spot on the emotion in whichever scene they are played. Even the softer original tracks (Chaka Khan, Des'ree, Seal) have a gentle nobility that doesn't pander to the R&B crowd. Terence Blanchard's orchestral/jazz score achieves several great moments of genuine woe and remorse.
I find "Clockers" to be an inquisitive, audacious and Soulful piece of filmmaking. The way in which it overlaps disheartening despair, humor-within-ignorance, poignant community drama, characters that expertly shred stereotype, and a genuine glimpse of hope is a masterful feat in any regard. It's a courageous move to make when your questions don't come with answers. What is offered is the possibility of an answer, an elaborately simple one. I expected an inner-city detective thriller but walked away with a gripping emotional maelstrom that honestly reaches the level of overwhelming. Very long story short, "Clockers" is the film that I was waiting for Spike Lee to make, because I knew he had it in him. I praise and commend this achievement, Mars. Anyone interested in a drastically good film ought to hit this joint.
The DVD is barebones: trailer, production notes, bios. But the price is worth it to see DP Malik Sayeed's stark and immediate photography in the theatrical 1.85:1 ratio, and crystal clear. Decent 5.1 sound mix, as well: the music is allowed to shine.
NO MORE PACKING
ClOcKeRs IS RAW, REAL ,and POWERFUL
J. COSBY | 11/01/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With so many films based around the topic of drugs,and urban decay,and leaving the audience with a sense of (ok,I've seen this story before)made me ask "IS ClOcKeRs worth my time?" Hell yes! Spike Lee'S classic, ... yes classic, is so RAW,REAL,and POWERFUL that it makes all previous drug focused films seem pointless. what i mean is, most films that cover this topic seem to glamorize the lifestyle,and leaves no message.ClOcKeRs is the tail of A young black male called Strike who's spot on the benches and bleeding ulcer is getting the best of him, until his boss Rodney gives him a chance to move up in the drug game.When a fellow drug dealer gets killed,and Strike's hard working (legit) brother confesses to the murder,A detective by the name of Roco feels that there's more to the story. With a very raw intro and out standing directing, Spike Lee brings the realness to the screen with ClOcKeRs. so go rent it Aiight."
An underrated classic
Jacob G Corbin | Prairie Village, Kansas United States | 05/08/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I think this is one of Spike Lee's best films - it deftly balances a compelling murder mystery with a wider portrait of the people, both innocent and less so, whose lives are warped by their community's decay in ways both obvious and subtle.The movie juggles a cast of a round dozen characters seemingly effortlessly, and with enough skill and density that you feel like you know them far better than their actual screen time would warrant. The cast is first-rate, the acting is excellent, the direction keeps the story moving at an exciting clip, and the music is a perfect balance of hip-hop beats with a more traditional score.Most importantly, the story veers away from exploitation and glamorization. Strike's miserable condition and his endless ulcers give us a portrait of a confused and misdirected life that feels sadly plausible. What's really interesting is how Lee enlists the setting of the movie as a sort of omnipresent background character - his camera is always roving around, showing us the little details, from the cyclone fencing to the burnt-out neon signs, that make up a ghetto. By the end of the movie, we know the charred landscape well enough to experience firsthand Strike's profound relief upon his eventual escape from it."
Fine, taut drama with social commentary
Matthew G. Sherwin | last seen screaming at Amazon customer service | 08/25/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Clockers gave Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee the chance to collaborate on a project that became a brilliant motion picture. Clockers examines the gritty, brutal life on the streets that sometimes offers the only hope for millions of underprivileged African-American men and their families. Clockers paints an honest portrait of many black people in the New York City housing projects as they struggle to survive; some get involved in drugs and drug dealing with others desperately strive to avoid a life of crime and hold out real hope for a brighter future. Clockers accomplishes this with superlative acting, a wonderful script and excellent direction.
The action begins in a Brooklyn, New York housing project where many young black men are routinely drawn into the drug scene with its crime and money made from dealing drugs. Ronald 'Strike' Dunham (Mekhi Phifer) is a "clocker;" this means that he is there on the benches of the projects to deal crack 24 hours a day. His boss, Rodney Little (Delroy Lindo), becomes disgusted with Darryl Adams (Steve White) interfering with his "territory." Rodney tells Strike to kill Darryl so that Rodney has more control and power over the territory--not to mention much more money from his clockers who he has dealing crack for him. Although we don't actually see the crime, the film makes it clear that Strike does what Rodney told him to do. Victor, Strike's older brother, turns himself into the police and tries to take the blame for the crime. Trouble is, however, Detective Rocco Klein doesn't buy Victor's somewhat bungled story for a minute. Fellow Detective Larry Mazilli (John Turturro) reluctantly goes along with Rocco as Rocco persists at finding the real murderer.
Without giving out spoilers, the plot obviously snowballs into a cat and mouse game between Rocco Klein and Spike. Spike refuses to admit any knowledge of the crime; but when his boss Rodney lands in jail things become very hot for Spike. Spike is then caught in between police detectives he** bent on finding the real murderer and ruthless drug dealer Rodney.
Clockers keeps your attention with remarkable shots of the projects, excellent background music that rarely interferes with your ability to hear what's being spoken, and convincing acting that portrays the projects and the problem of drug crime exactly they way they exist in real life. Indeed, the film opens with actual photos of persons who were gunned down in drug wars along with murals on walls hoping that the departed rest in peace. Moreover, Clockers is not for children; nor is this film for the squeamish. There's a good deal of violence and blood; but the realism raises Clockers up to a five star high level of motion picture.
The DVD, after all this marvelous acting, disappoints with few extra features. You get brief biographies of the four or five major actors in the film; and you can choose subtitles if you wish. There's a theatrical trailer but that's about it.
At the end of the day, Clockers remains an excellent motion picture with great acting, a taut script and plot and a good pace that never leaves you bored or disinterested. I highly recommend this movie for people who want to see what life is really like in some housing projects where real opportunities for African-American men and other residents are very limited. Clockers also provides us with excellent social commentary about the remarkably harsh and brutal world of drug dealing. "
the purple peopleeater | Australia | 12/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie is absolutely incredible,(espeecially for a "spike Lee joint"!). WATCH THIS MOVIE!!! If you like commercial hollywood cinema you probably won't like this film, but this is truly quality filmaking. The movie just flows. The best thing about the movie is the acting! Absolutely incredible! MEKHI PHIFER's performance is the best I have ever seen (along with Derek Luke in Antwone Fisher)- Performance of a lifetime, his facial expressions are priceless! If you don't end up liking this movie then you don't appreciate good acting. The cinematography is also beautiful. The film is not overly moralistic, nor preachy or patronising like most of Spike Lee's work tends to be. THIS IS A WORK OF ART!"