Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Warriors

Hopefully today will be productive, in terms of more reviews written than movies seen, as it's Red Sox Ticket Virtual Waiting Room Day, which now comes twice a year! And more often if you get a chance to buy Yankee, Monster, Right Field Roof, or Opening Day tickets! Hopefully the wait for Tokyo Tickets won't be so crazy, if I decide to go for that.

Anyway, about The Warriors... I've only been to New York a few times, but it tickles me that the subways being confusing is mentioned. It drives me nuts, especially compared to the relatively simple MBTA.

The Warriors

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 January 2008 in Jay's Living Room (HD-DVD rental)

It's kind of a shame that the present "Ultimate Director's Cut" of The Warriors feels the need to underline its mythic and comic book influences so plainly. When you don't point that sort of thing out, you have an action movie that reminds people of an epic quest despite its modest scale, rather than just trying to claim that sort of title.

It is, as the prologue tells us, the quest to return home. Coney Island street gang The Warriors has come to the Bronx along with representatives from every other gang in New York to listen to a speech by Cyrus (Roger Hill), leader of the city's most powerful gang, the Riffs. He proposes that if they work together, they could control the city - after all, they outnumber the police, the mafia, and anyone else. It sounds good, but Cyrus is assassinated by Luther (David Patrick Kelly), leader of the Rogues, who lay the blame at the feet of the Warriors. They flee, separated from their own leader (Dorsey Wright), but no place in the city other than their home turf is safe, since the radio has gotten the word out that the Warriors broke the truce and it's now open season on them.

One of the opening credits sets The Warriors in "The Future", although there aren't any ray guns or flying cars to be found. Instead, there's a vaguely dystopian feel, with what had been gangs have evolved into something closer to tribes. Skin color doesn't seem to be a major factor in their identity; the Warriors are integrated and none of the taunting between gangs or strife within goes to race. It's an unreal environment, familiar enough to feel possible but just fanciful enough to be a sort of alternate reality (at least, thirty years later).

Part of what makes the film such a world of its own is Bobbie Mannix's costumes for the Warriors and the other gangs they encounter. Each gang looks like a group of a Batman villain's henchmen which has lost its leader, from the leather-vested Warriors to the Baseball Furies in grey pinstriped uniforms and facepaint. As imaginative as some of these are, Mannix and company resist the temptation to make them too fancy; not even Cyrus's outfit is that far away from the ratty clothes worn by the low-level Orphans; they are street gangs, after all, not supervillains or superheroes.

The cast does a fine job of not making their characters into either. Dorsey Wright and Roger Hill certainly project charisma as Cleon and Cyrus, but not in a way that makes them fundamentally different than the young men they're leading. Michael Beck is less sure of himself as the gang's "war leader"; he's blessed with more sense than the rest but doesn't quite have what it takes to make people listen to it. He butts heads with James Remar's Ajax a lot; Remar's the one to remind us that even our protagonists aren't necessarily great guys, and he seems to have a great time playing the thug. David Patrick Kelly is maniacally over-the-top as Luther; Deborah Van Valkenburgh is all attitude as the girl who falls in with the Warriors, first as a hostage and then more willingly.

As much as Walter Hill may have been a little too keen to show off his influences in the new edition (and the animated transitions really don't work; both the art style and the way he pans between comic-book panels feel out of sync with the film's late-seventies style), most of what he did in '78 is tight. There aren't very many minutes wasted in the film, and when circumstances divide the gang up into smaller groups, he does a fine job of splitting time between them. The action scenes are pretty well-done, with much better hand-to-hand fight choreography than is typical of American movies of that time, and Hill manages to add a lot of style without having it take over the film.

The Warriors isn't a classic, but it certainly holds up after thirty years, which is a pretty nice feat in and of itself.

Also at eFilmCritic, along with four other reviews

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