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NEVER DIE ALONE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: DMX, David Arquette, Michael Ealy
Director: Ernest Dickerson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 88 Minutes
Release Date: July 13, 2004

“Today’s the day…I stop running from my past.”

Film ***1/2

If I were to tell you that there was a criminal character in the movies that would be just as despicable as Tony Montana in Scarface, you’d probably think I was kidding. However, the fact is there is such a character in the urban crime thriller Never Die Alone, whose actions come close to making Tony Montana appear like a full out saint. Rarely has there been a single individual character whose choice actions are so cold-blooded and unredeemable.

His name is King David, played with raw ferocity by rapper DMX. The story is told through complete flashback, with the very first shot in the film showing David lying in a coffin. His entire criminal life is reflected through audio tapes he had recorded with intentions of possibly writing a book of his life. When his life is cut short during a payoff gone bad, his entire life recordings come into the possession of a young reporter named Paul (David Arquette). It is then when the truth behind King David’s nature is revealed.

David, a former drug runner of New York, has come back to his home turf to set the wrong things right after relocating out west. But in King David’s line of work, that is hardly ever a true situation. He comes back into town specifically to pay off an old debt to a drug kingpin named Moon (Clifton Powell), who then assigns his new protégé Mike (Michael Ealy) to make the cash pick up.

The payoff doesn’t go quite as planned; in fact it turns quite violent. It is here when the reporter, Paul, comes into contact with the dying David. Rushing him to the hospital, where he is then pronounced dead, Paul becomes the unlikely beneficiary to King David’s belongings, including the numerous audio tapes where upon David recorded his every sinister action.

Paul, wanting to know why David had to die, begins listening to his life story, so begins the real story of the film. We witness the very action as it occurs. David, having double crossed Moon, flees town and decides to make a desperate flee out west to L.A., possibly to start a new form of drug business. We soon discover that David possessed a natural talent for picking up women quickly, only to control the status of their lives through providing them with quick drugs.

David hooks up with two individual women. One is TV actress Janet (Jennifer Sky); the second is ambitious college student Juanita (Reagan Gomez-Preston). He pretty much has them attached to him for one sole purpose; to control their lives by the strings. He gets them hooked on coke, only to switch it out to heroin without having the heart to tell either one of them. One woman’s tragic fate is straightly connected with a crucial event in the past; one which will reveal a surprising connection between David and another person.

The movie is directed with a strong visual style by Ernest Dickerson. Dickerson started out as a cinematographer, working a great deal with filmmaker Spike Lee on such films as Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X. He then became a director in his own, creating such memorable pieces as the urban thriller Juice and one of my personal horror favorites, Demon Knight. With Never Die Alone, Dickerson has created his strongest cinematic piece to date.

The cinematography by Matthew Libatique is another plus. Libatique, whose work can be seen in such strong fare as Requiem For a Dream, Tigerland, and Phone Booth, applies a memorable visual style to this gritty urban thriller. 

Strong in its story and relentlessly dark and unnerving, Never Die Alone is quite possibly one of the best gangster dramas to come out in quite some time. Credit both DMX for delivering a gut wrenchingly realistic performance, and Dickerson for making a most strong and visually powerful piece of urban noir.

Video ****

Fox offers up yet another strong and visually stunning anamorphic presentation. The image is, at times, a bit murky and grainy…but that’s a hundred percent intentional, as to make the storytelling much more gripping. The detail is ever so superb, with the colors, as much as the dark and gritty picture will allow them, are quite absorbing and extremely natural. High marks all the way. The Full Screen version is also included, but you should definitely stick with the flipside of the disc, which is indeed the widescreen edition.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix is quite a marvelous strong one. The film does include a bit of momentary shootouts and gritty violence, but there’s a whole lot more to go around in this outstanding presentation. Dialogue, along with a mighty urban-like score in addition to a few hip hop tracks, each is heard with powerful detail and clarity. Overall, an effective sound presentation to match the strong effect of the film itself.

Features ***

While not a fully loaded disc, Fox still manages to apply to basic goods to this release. Featured is a commentary track with DMX, Ernest Dickerson and screenwriter James Gibson. There are 11 deleted scenes with optional commentary, a making of featurette, a trailer gallery, and an inside look at Fox’s upcoming theatrical release, Taxi. The only downer is that you will have to flip the disc over to see all of the features.

Summary:

The likes of De Palma’s Scarface and Carlito’s Way will remain tough to measure up to, but Ernest Dickerson’s Never Die Alone is without a doubt one of the best films of its type to come around in a while. Be prepared for an ultra-gritty and ultimately dark atmospheric tale of urban crime.