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  King of New York He's The Boss
Year: 1990
Director: Abel Ferrara
Stars: Christopher Walken, David Caruso, Laurence Fishburne, Victor Argo, Wesley Snipes, Janet Julian, Joey Chin, Giancarlo Esposito, Paul Calderon, Steve Buscemi, Theresa Randle, Leonard L. Thomas, Vanessa Angel, Erica Gimpel, Harold Perrineau, Phoebe Legere
Genre: Drama, Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's been a few years, but Frank White (Christopher Walken) is finally out of prison. He is met at the gates by a limousine which takes him to the New York Plaza Hotel, which he plans to be his home for however long it takes for him to get back on top again. That's on top of the gangster life, which all the time he was inside he was planning his comeback to, and already some of his henchmen have been visiting a Colombian drug lord ostensibly to do a deal with him, but actually to murder him and take over his substantial supply...

When it arrived on the movie scene back in the early nineties, director Abel Ferrara's King of New York did not, it's safe to say, receive the best of receptions. In fact it was regarded as a morally bankrupt glorification of the mobster lifestyle in precisely the way Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, released the same year, was not, the difference being the latter was the work of a respected virtuoso and Ferrara was the creator of such scuzzy efforts as The Driller Killer. The violence here was a particular sticking point with the audiences, and add that to the drug use and you had an effort which was not seeking to make friends.

But make friends it did, for it attracted a cult following as Ferrara's films were wont to do, largely centering around a performance from Walken which ranked among his spaciest and most compelling. His Frank White is a man whose path through life makes perfect sense to him, as a businessman who uses the most extreme methods to ensure he is a success, mainly by murdering anyone in his way, or getting his underlings to (Laurence Fishburne was especially memorable as his enthusiastic sidekick). Thus King of New York became a touchstone movie for gangsta rap in the same way Brian De Palma's Scarface was, though if anything this was even more niche, something for the connoisseur of the genre, one for the more refined gangsta palate.

Yet Ferrara and his screenwriter Nicholas St. John were not a pair of demonic figures revelling in the lowest form of lifestyle, they were simply a lot more ambiguous about their themes. They didn't concentrate on the lawbreakers, they also took time to build up the cops' roles, so led by David Caruso as Dennis Gilley they grow increasingly frustrated with the ease the courts let off the men they have done their best to arrest in the hope of a conviction and begin to draw up plans for a more illegal solution, thus the lines between the police and the criminals are decidedly blurred. By the end it's as if the cop characters are a gang in themselves, and a tit for tat war erupts between them and White's men.

Oddly, what inspired Ferrara to make this was The Terminator; he had seen what a hit that was and noted that what audiences wanted was action and violence, so hoping for a similar success he created a thriller based around the high profile New York mobsters of the day, all drenched with the sensationalist elements he regarded as crowdpleasing. Being the filmmaker he was, by the end of five years the movie was not going to appeal to the widest demographic, but if you cared to look a little deeper into scene after scene of characters getting gunned down you would find a work which genuinely tried to get to grips with the terrible social problems of New York, and many other cities. It highlighted that one highly effective way of making money was through drugs, and when that money was put to deliberate good use - Frank funds a hospital - it puts the viewer in a difficult position, not knowing whether to back the apparent bad guy or the dogged cop (Victor Argo, the moral centre) tracking him from his desk. If anything, this was brave enough to admit to no easy answers. Music by Joe Delia.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Abel Ferrara  (1952 - )

Controversial New York director whose films frequently centre around sex, violence and moral redemption, and often feature Harvey Keitel, Christopher Walken or Willem Dafoe. Debuted in 1979 with the infamous Driller Killer, in which he also starred, followed by rape-revenge thriller Ms. 45/Angel of Vengeance. Several slick, less distinctive movies followed - Fear City, China Girl and Cat Chaser, as well as work on TV shows Miami Vice and Crime Story.

1990's King of New York was a return to form, while the searing Bad Lieutenant quickly became the most notorious, and perhaps best, film of Ferrara's career. The nineties proved to be the director's busiest decade, as he dabbled in intense psycho-drama (Dangerous Game, The Blackout), gangster movies (The Funeral), sci-fi (Body Snatchers, New Rose Hotel) and horror (The Addiction). He continued to turn in little-seen but interesting work, such as the urban drug drama 'R Xmas and the religious allegory Mary until his higher profile returned with the likes of Welcome to New York and Pasolini.

 
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