Clockers is a film that slipped under the radar screen when it was released in 1995. A disturbing, masterfully shot film, Spike Lee showed new ability to direct someone else's work after years of only making films that he wrote.
Mekhi Phifer stars as Strike, a low level drug dealer, referred to as Clockers because they are available via beeper around the clock. He wants to move up the ladder of Rodney's (Delroy Lindo) crime syndicate, but has been given a challenge. Rodney has ordered Strike to kill a fast food restaurant manager, so Rodney can take over the operation to make it into a drug distribution center. However, Strike is starting to wonder if it is all worth it.
The manager is killed, but Strike's brother, Victor (Isaiah Washington) confesses to the crime. The detectives called in to investigate are split in their opinion. Larry (John Turturro) is glad to accept the confession and move on to the next case, but Rocco (Harvey Keitel) doesn't believe that Victor, a hard working, law abiding, family man committed the crime, so he puts pressure on Strike to admit what he has done.
Did Strike commit the crime?
The film is a hard-hitting look at the devastation drugs has wrought in cities and neighborhoods across America. One of the film's best sub-plots involves a young boy who idolized Strike and his fellow clockers. Even though his mother (Regina Taylor) and a local police officer, Andre (Keith David) desperately struggle to keep the young boy away from bad influences, Strike takes the kid under his wing with horrific consequences.
Lee shows his ability as a director with some amazing work in the film. He gives the film a gritty, grainy feel to convey the feeling on the street. Lee picks the right times to use slow motion and close ups, including a wonderful shot where Lee zooms in on a person's eyeball to show the reflection of Harvey Keitel grilling the suspect. Not only does the audience see the imposing figure of Keitel, but the fear in the suspect's eye.
In addition to being brilliantly shot by Lee, the film is full of great performances. Chosen from a pool of 1000 young actors, Mekhi Phifer makes a stunning debut performance as the drug dealer who is starting to realize the error of his ways. Surrounded by heavyweight actors like Lindo and Keitel, Phifer is more than able to hold his own as his character's life spins out of control and the people he cares about are placed in harm's way. He is able to develop a complex character who wants to impress his buddies, suffers from a developing ulcer and loves his family even though he is an outcaste.
Keitel's character is very familiar to the audience and anyone who has seen his work. He plays the tough, street-smart detective looking to arrest the real scourge of the neighborhood - Rodney. Lindo also is very good as Rodney, a patriarchal figure for the neighborhood's young men who have absent fathers. However, he is like a serpent in the Garden of Eden attempting to lure the young men into acts that are detrimental to their future.
While Lee finished the movie, he didn't start it. The film is based on a novel by co-screenwriter Richard Price. The book grabbed the attention of Martin Scorcese and Robert DeNiro, who planned on making the movie together. However, they had the chance to make the film Casino and left Clockers in the capable hands of Lee and Keitel.
If you are squeamish or not a fan of tough crime dramas, stay away from this one. However, if you like Lee, Keitel, Lindo or crime stories, check out Clockers this weekend.
Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Richard Price and Spike Lee
Based on a novel by Richard Price
Mekhi Phifer . Strike
Delroy Lindo . Rodney
Harvey Keitel Rocco
John Turturro . Larry
Isaiah Washington .. Victor
Keith David ....Andre
Regina Taylor . Iris
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