After a fairly regular exploration of Spike Lee's films over the last few weeks, we reach a good place to leave off with for the time being with 'Clockers.'
Strike (Mekhi Pheifer) is one of many 'clockers' (street-level drug dealers) who work for Rodney (Delroy Lindo). One day, Rodney claims that another clocker has been stealing from him and he wants Strike to kill him. This puts our protagonist in a bit of a dilemma as he is hesitant to actually kill someone. He meets his hardworking, legit brother Victor (Isaiah Washington) and asks for help.
Hours later, the intended target is dead and Det. Rocco Klein (Harvey Keitel) and Det. Larry Mazzili (John Turturro) are on the scene. Soon after, Victor is in the police station confessing to the murder, saying it was in self-defense. Normally, it would be an open-and-shut case, but something doesn't sit right with Klein. He isn't buying the confession and things that there is more to the story. The detectives begin to turn their attention toward Strike, believing that he is truly behind everything. They begin to turn of the pressure on Strike which causes some real tension in the community, especially in his standing with Rodney.
Will Strike be able to survive the scrutiny he is under from his boss and from the authorities? Will justice be served? Will we find out who the murderer actually is?
Allegedly, this movie was originally supposed to be one of Martin Scorsese's projects and it would have been starring Robert DeNiro. Imagine how different in tone and stylistically this movie would have been with Scorsese at the helm. It would have probably been more straightforward, grim and cinematic. This has a lot of Lee's usual trademarks: stationary characters with dynamic backgrounds, gritty flashbacks, occasionally bright/washed out colors, a soundtrack full of hip hop, and the inclusion of John Turturro. This is definitely a product of the '90s and outside of a few scenes that launch the premise, it feels like one of Lee's film's
It is hard to pin down the film's tone and goals. We eventually find ourselves in the middle of a mystery which questions whether or not Victor did the killing. That is carried throughout until the very end when we get some fairly rushed resolution that is both sufficient and somehow slightly underwhelming. The other storyline that Lee seems to be more interested in telling is Strike's rise and fall within his network of fellow clockers, his standing with Rodney, and his community/projects (including a young boy who looks up to him). The murder is merely the reason for Det. Klein to get involved and to stir things up. If one were to remove the mystery and deception from the story, it wouldn't have made much difference. Just like with 'Jungle Fever' there is a lot going on, again, maybe too much.
This film was Phifer's debut and he does a fine job. Keitel does his usual great job and Keith David scores big as a concerned father-figure to a boy who might be headed down a bad path. Actually, one of the most memorable performances comes from a Rodney's business partner, Errol (Tom Byrd), the most outwardly menacing of the antagonists.
Special features include: nothing.
'Clockers' was a fairly divisive film upon its release that, in truth, neither deserves the accolades nor the ire it has received from many circles. It is merely an average entry on Lee's resume, more exciting and engaging than his lesser works, but lacking the memorable story and social messages of his classics.
Rated R 128 minutes 1995