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KING OF NEW YORK

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Christopher Walken, Laurence Fishburne, David Caruso, Victor Argo, Wesley Snipes, Janet Julian, Joey Chin, Giancarlo Esposito, Paul Calderon
Director: Abel Ferrara
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: Artisan
Features: See Review
Length: 106 Minutes
Release Date: April 20, 2004

"Do you expect to get away with killing all these people?"

"I never killed anyone…that didn't deserve it."

Film ***1/2

Even by 1990, with actors like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro perfecting the portrait of a powerful gangster, there was still one actor who, although having never played the part before, was nonetheless destined to play it. Christopher Walken is perhaps one of the all time great menacing presences in the movies, being able to frighten with just the slightest facial expression and eccentric way of speaking. King of New York is one of Walken's career highlights, as well as one of the actor's most intense and stunning performances to date.

Walken plays Frank White, an assumed reformed former crime lord who has returned to New York City after spending some time in the slammer. Once back in the Big Apple, Frank is set up in his luxurious suite at the Plaza Hotel, where he lives and conducts business of sorts. His arrival attracts the attention of both the media and the cops. Frank tells the news that if possible he'd like to run for mayor. The city cops, however, know better and suspect that Frank is about to start up a bigger than before crime empire.

The movie's portrait of Frank's criminal mind is quite interesting.  He's sort of a cross between Tony Montana with a bit of Robin Hood. Frank does plan on going back to his evil, town-ruling roots. In fact, there was never any alternative plan. However, Frank's primary concern is with taking all of his profits made from drug dealing and using it to help pay the budget for a hospital in Harlem for the not so fortunate.

At the same time, it's clear that Frank is a figure of undeniable power. His seductive methods are illustrated in a fascinating scene where a group of thugs attempt to mug Frank on the subway. All Frank does is reveal is sidearm, which alarms the muggers. He then takes out a big roll of cash, tosses it to them, and offers them a job on his crew, saying calmly, "Ask for me at the Plaza."

Frank's saintly act won't be helped by two crucial factors. An NYC police unit, headed by tough as nails Bishop (Victor Argo) is cracking down on Frank as fast as a mouse tracking cheese. The second is the doings of Frank's hot headed right hand man, Jimmy Jump (Laurence Fishburne, then credited as Larry). Fishburne is phenomenal and quite memorable in this role, which is a sight to see since we are now so used to seeing him in more subtle performances, as demonstrated in The Matrix movies. In addition, the movie also features some nice early performances from David Caruso and Wesley Snipes as two of Bishop's hot tempered cops.

Jimmy is as psychotic as any trigger happy thug could be. He is the first man that the ruthless cops pursue in order to get some info on the crime lord's doings. That all fails when Frank's attorney bails the man out in no less than ten minutes after being arrested.  The cops are then convinced that there is only one way to nail Frank, by that of execution style, which sets up the exciting, but heavily brutal portions of the story.

While King of New York doesn't begin to compare the greatest of mafia epics, such as GoodFellas, Scarface, and Casino, it remains an effective picture nonetheless. The fact is this, when you have Christopher Walken in the lead role in any film, especially one that requires him to be extremely sinister, that's worth the price of admission by itself. All Walken has to do is execute a facial expression, utter dialogue in that terrific tone of his, and you've gotten your money's worth.  He's done this for over three decades, and it's always fascinating to experience.

Video ***

I've actually never seen this film on DVD before, but I must say that Artisan has done a most exceptional job with the video quality. The movie is very heavy on the style and glamour that accompanies the life of a gangster, and in this case, the shots of New York does look quite elegant as a result. There's also a heavy does of sequences that take place either at night or in darkly lit settings, some of which are more successful than others. For the most part, a much pleasing presentation. The 2 disc offering also includes the full screen version on Disc 2.  

Audio ***1/2

I'm glad I waited until now to see the movie on DVD, as this re-release offers a 5.1 mix, which from what I understand, wasn't available on the previous disc. The sound quality is striking and perfect, demonstrating Artisan's top notch quality for adding some zest to the sound of films with a bit of age to them. There's a good deal of hip hop music played in the movie and an equal dose of violent shootouts, which both play off in an explosively sharp fashion. Dialogue is strong and well delivered as always, in addition.

Features ****

Artisan's new 2 disc offering is yet another flawless display of extras. Disc 1 contains two audio commentary tracks; one with director Abel Ferarra, and the second with producer Mary Kane, editor Anthony Redman, composer Joe Delia and associate producer Randy Sabusawa. Also featured is a documentary titled "A Short Film About the Long Career of Abel Ferarra", and a trailer.

Disc 2 features the documentary, "The Adventures of Schoolly D", which covers the rap artist who contributed his hip hop artistry to the film. In addition, there is also a Schoolly D music video, and several TV spots for the movie.

Summary:

King of New York is a most memorable performance piece, highlighted by a monumental and sinister Christopher Walken performance. It's sure to be one of the films the actor is to be long remembered for, and very deservingly.