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Clockers

Directed by Spike Lee. Starring Harvey Keitel, Delroy Lindo, John Turturro, Mekhi Phifer, Isaiah Washington. (1995, R, 129 min.)

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 15, 1995

From the novel by Richard Price (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Spike Lee) comes Lee's first real look at urban drug dealing and the effects it has on life in the 'hood. Clockers is the tale of two brothers, Victor (Washington) and Strike (Phifer) and what happens when Victor, the “good” brother, is arrested for the murder of a local “clocker,” or low-level street dealer. While Victor spends his days working two jobs and saving every penny to try to get his family out of the projects and away to a better place, brother Strike makes time -- and good money -- selling crack to the marks in the local park with his gang of gangsta rap-loving thugs and taking lessons in crime from Rodney Little (Lindo), a local merchant who runs a drug ring out of his corner grocery. When Victor lands in jail and confesses to murder “in self defense,” local detective Rocco Klein (Keitel) puts the heat on Strike in an effort to find out if the squeaky clean Victor is covering up for his wayward brother. This is the first Spike Lee Joint that feels more like a mainstream Hollywood cops-in-the-'hood picture and less like one of Lee's recurrent soapboxes: There are fewer of his glissando “look ma!” camera flourishes (although they're not gone entirely), a decided drop in the speechifying, and, in general, not as much attention drawn to the filmmaker's style in deference to the story line. Co-produced by Martin Scorsese, Clockers shares much of the gritty, color-drenched feel of this New York auteur's earlier works, but it's still very much Spike's movie, from the harrowing opening credits that take us on a tour of brutal NY crime scenes to the excellent casting and performances from Keitel (who, granted, could probably do this role in his sleep by now) on down to Pee Wee Love's role as Tyrone, the neighborhood kid who is caught between the glamour of the clockers and the pull of a good family. Lee's eighth film is missing the in-your-face punch of previous outings such as Do the Right Thing, but more than makes up for it with its nuanced characters and a 'hood script that for once doesn't seem like it was lifted part and parcel from a 2Pac rhyme. It's about time.

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