Today: April 14, 2024

King Of New York

Abel Ferrara at his grandiose best.

Abel Ferrara at his grandiose best.

90s cinema was
the cinema of excess. An era in
which bigger, louder, faster, sexier was the motto. A time when Don
Simpson
and Jerry Bruckheimer
were able to make a blockbusting movie from nothing more than a vague idea of a
story. Abel Ferrara’s King Of New
York
wants to rise above that but looking back on it now is something of a
wonderfully cartoonish, over the top thrill, which perfectly encompasses the
Hollywood Excess of the time.

Frank White (Christopher Walken) is just out of
prison and determined to pick up as the newly crowned King Of New York. His right hand man Jimmy Jump (Larry Fishburne) does much of the
killing for him while Frank slowly slimes his way into the wallets of the
cities power brokers in the hope of making it a better place to rule. But the cops don’t like Frank, they’re
sick of his killings and getting away with it so Dennis Gilley (David Caruso) and Thomas Flanigan (Wesley Snipes) decide to take matters
into their own hands. All the
while cop Roy Bishop (Victor Argo)
is trying to find a legal way of taking Frank down.

As with all
Ferrara works there is a strong undertone of Catholic symbolism and ideas. White is the embodiment of evil while
Bishop wants to do right by the law.
Together they vie over the soul of New York. To this extent Ferrara shoots New York as a seedy, whore-filled
hellhole. It’s not the bright
lights and extravagance of Time Square, but the back alleys and rundown houses
you’re more used to seeing in Baltimore bound The Wire.

While the plot is
thin, there is something of a guilty pleasure to be found in King Of New
York. Helped by a brilliant
central performance by Walken you are seduced into the world which is somewhere
between comic book fantasy and exploitation violence. We jump from party to killing without ever really hanging
around to discover anyone’s real motives outside of money. But early on it’s
made clear that anything can happen.
A relatively mundane drug deal turns into a blood bath and after that
each scene is laced with a sense of dread. As Frank fixes characters with his ice-cold gaze you wonder;
is he gone to pull a gun or his wallet.
In one scene Frank and his girl ride the subway late at night, a gang
hold them up for money and Frank, flashing his gun at them, throws them a huge
wodge of cash before telling them he has work for people like them.

For all its flaws
King Of New York is held together by some big, if slightly retro-excessive,
performances. Larry Fishburne,
still Larry here before he went all serious on us in his later career, is
brilliantly brash as the jumped-up Jimmy Jump. Victor Argo is the closest thing going to a quiet calm and
even David (acting with sunglasses is hard) Caruso brings a huge amount of
charisma to his role. However, it
is Walken, a frequent Ferrara collaborator, who centers the film. One minute he can be utterly still, a
loaded gun just waiting to explode, the next he’s jive dancing with his crew,
them in bling him in a sharp suit.
There is no question that Frank White is the devil incarnate, or to
quote another Walken role ‘The Anti-Christ’, but you are ever so charmed by
this devil in Walken’s hands.

Somewhere beneath
the over-the-top performances and lack of plot there is an inkling of a point
to be made. But King Of New York reigns supreme when it simply allows itself to
be big, bold and bonkers.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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