King of New York (1990)

Directed by Abel Ferrara, King of New York tells the story of Frank White (Christopher Walken), a “reformed” criminal who, upon his release from prison, sets out to be the most morally righteous criminal in New York. He does so by murdering his enemies in cold blood and making out with women on trains. I’m sure it’s something like that anyway. The plot doesn’t really matter to be honest, because the film moves at such a slow pace, and does nothing to let the audience get invested in the characters, so when moments of “De Palma-esque” action occur, the audience is left wondering why we should care.

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King of New York (dir. Abel Ferrara, DOP Bojan Bazelli)

That sounds harsh, and it is. King of New York, while receiving the lowest Podfather Score we’ve given to date, is not a ‘Terrible Film’. When a film is just flat out terrible, it is easy to brush it off as a ‘Terrible Film’ and move on. However, when a film is very bad but has some redeeming qualities, and one can just make out a fantastic film underneath its crushing mediocrity, it is very frustrating. King of New York falls into that category. There are moments in the film that are some of the funnest and most brutal you’ll see in a gangster film, but the film doesn’t earn those moments and it ultimately feels very unsatisfactory for a viewer. One can tell that those in front of and behind the camera are at least trying to make something fresh and unique, but the pacing of the movie suffers from some of the more gratuitous slower sequences, whose visual beauty don’t make up for the carnage they inflict upon the film’s momentum.  There are also some fantastic performances, perhaps most notably from ‘Larry’ Fishburne, and some truly remarkable practical effects, but to be honest that’s about it.

I can understand why people like this film – it does share a similar cinematic vocabulary with Scarface (1983) (another well-liked film I don’t much care for) – and if I had been able to properly invest in the characters, their ultimate demise may have been very affecting. Sadly, however, I found King of New York to be a plodding, unremarkable film, albeit one that seems to have a spectacular film hiding somewhere beneath.

The Podfather Score – 4.25/10

– J.B

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