Director Abel Ferrara is primarily known for the provocative and controversial content in his films, having made his debut in pornography in 1976 before first drawing his cult audience in ’79 with his ultraviolent urban slasher flick The Driller Killer. 1990 took the filmmaker as close as he got to the mainstream with the bog-standard crime thriller King of New York, now receiving a stunning 4K restoration from Arrow Films.
King of New York sees Christopher Walken doing what he does best in the lead role as slick criminal Frank White, fresh out of prison and looking to recover his power on the streets. With a supporting cast of future stars including Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes and Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito, the film is a pretty run-of-the-mill 90s neo-noir thriller that never earned the reputation of its contemporaries like Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas (also released in ’90) – and it’s easy to see why. It’s just nowhere near as good.
On a positive note, the film certainly looks the part, bringing the glitz and glamour of the city to life – some scenes of the film are shot at Donald Trump’s extravagant Plaza Hotel (who supposedly waived the filming licence fees in exchange for Walken posing for a photo with his then-wife Ivana Trump). But like the vapid upper-class world it depicts, the film is actually pretty bland and soulless under the surface.
Beyond the film’s lavish style, King of New York is weighed down by a clunky and predictable narrative. There’s nothing here that particularly absorbs or excites, rather feeling somewhat cookie-cutter in structure and execution. Despite a strong performance from Walken, brilliant visuals and a supporting cast “who’s who” of future stars, King of New York is a dull and unoriginal entry in a crowded genre that proves if you take the provocative content away from director Abel Ferrara, he actually isn’t that good a filmmaker.
The new 4K restoration is utterly stunning, however, while a wealth of special features including a documentary on Ferrara will certainly delight fans of the film and the controversial filmmaker. And that sums up the whole release. King of New York certainly isn’t going to win any new fans, thirty years after its release, but those fond of the film and its cult director will love this stunning new 4K release.