There are many players here, but the film predominately follows Strike (Mekhi Phifer)- a "clocker" or street-level drug dealer who works for businessman/supplier Rodney Little (Delroy Lindo). Though Rodney had illegal business dealings, he is also shown to be a mentor to the local youth, and he does give them guidance and opportunities, even if they aren't necessarily the most positive of things.
Strike finds himself in deep when he gets involved in the investigation of the murder of one of Rodney's rivals- a man Strike was told to get rid off. While the film does eventually reveal the truth, the bulk of the story probes whether or not Strike actually committed the murder. Besides pressure from Rodney, fellow clockers, and his own conscience, Strike also has to deal with the main cops on the case, played by Harvey Keitel and John Turturro.
This seems like a nice, simple, intimate story, and I would have been thrilled had it just stuck to being that. Instead, this small story is blown up, and used as merely a driving force in a broader story about the trials and tribulations of inner city life, specifically the issue of black on black crime.
I'm not as thrilled that this film was expanded into a lengthy epic, but I don't think that's a major issue. By having the film become so drawn out and broad, things tend to lose steam and focus from time to time, and the meandering leads to the grit and intensity losing their edge once in a while. But, when the film is on target, it's really on target, and makes for some compelling, well done, and entertaining cinema.
It's a decently well shot film, and the art direction and set design are suitably grimy, gritty, and show the plight of people in the inner city. An issue that really gets to me though is the music. Sometimes it's fine, but at others, it really clashes and sticks out. I'm all for ironic uses of music, but it's not really done all that well here, and seems kinda corny.
We do get some good performances though, and the themes and ideas are well established, but then again, I'd expect no less from Lee. The film does have its problems, but I don't think they're egregious enough to keep me from giving it the grade that I am.
You have to be in the right frame of mind, but if you can tap into this film's groove, and are wanting a broad tale, then sure, give this a look.
The film is a little bit of everything. Part cop film, part gangster, part family drama part neighborhood drama. Unfortunately the whole doesn't add up to the sum of it's parts.
Solid performances and great craftsmanship can't save this film. Not to say that it's bad, it's just remarkably unremarkable.
5 out of 5
A good precursor to The Wire, GOAT TV Series of course...love the title song by Marc Dorsey - People in Search of a Life...great opening credits with the body-count and that song...