Friday, November 5, 2010

#91. New Jack City (1991)

Directed By: Mario Van Peebles

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, Allen Payne

Tag line: "They're a new breed of gangster. The new public enemy. The new family of crime"

Trivia: Ice-T almost refused the role as Scottie because he felt that if the film was a failure it would negatively affect his rap career

There are some truly wonderful films out there that never seem to get their due, and New Jack City, Mario Van Peebles’ potent exploration of drug trafficking in urban America, is one of them.

Drug dealer Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes) has made it to the big time, the top man in a multi-million dollar crime syndicate known as the CNB. Not only does Nino manage his business well, but he’s also succeeded in wiping out the competition (many of whom don’t live to tell about it). 

Scotty Appleton (Ice T) is a cop who wants to bring Nino down. With the help of his new partner Nick Peretti (Judd Nelson) and a former junkie named Pookie (Chris Rock), Scotty infiltrates Nino’s operation and begins gathering evidence against him. But Nino’s power continues to grow exponentially, and Scotty, with limited resources, seems always one step behind the powerful kingpin.

The entire cast of New Jack City is excellent, yet there are two performers who stand out in my mind. The first is Wesley Snipes as drug lord Nino Brown. Snipes’ Nino is a vicious criminal who becomes more dangerous with each passing scene. Nobody stands in Nino’s way; not the cops, not the mafia, not even his closest friends. Snipes perfectly conveys the character’s ruthless energy, and we learn to detest this man who has grown rich off the suffering of others. 

On the other side of the spectrum is Chris Rock’s Pookie, a crackhead turned police informant. Pookie was Rock’s first noteworthy role, and the popular comedian certainly made the most of it, bringing us deep within his character’s personal purgatory, where drugs have fried his mind and confused his loyalties. Pookie represents the real tragedy of drugs in America, and Rock, normally a very funny guy, is at his dramatic best.

New Jack City is a highly effective crime drama, a thrilling action film, and an exposé of a drug culture that destroys both the individual user and the community at large. Powerful and provocative, New Jack City is a movie that deserves more attention than it’s received. It will move you, anger you, shock you, and stay with you for days.

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