Clockers Review

AKA: N/A
Genre: Crime Drama
Year Released: 1995
Distributor: Universal
Origin: USA
Running Time: 128 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: R
Related Films/Series: She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, Crooklyn, He Got Game, She’s Gotta Have It (TV Remake), Red Hook Summer
For Fans Of: Crooklyn, The Wire, New Jack City, Freedomland, South Central, New Jersey Drive, Blue Velvet, Chi-Raq
Notes: N/A
Fun Facts:
-Andre was played by Keith David. Outside of his live-action work, he has done a ton of work in voice acting. Some of his most notable roles include Goliath from Gargoyles, The President from Rick and Morty, and the titular antihero Spawn, but if you’re a Disney fan (putting the aforementioned Goliath aside), you know him as the voice of Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog. This means Clockers is the 2nd movie I reviewed featuring a cast member from that movie and 3rd movie I reviewed involving someone playing a Disney villain in their respective original movie or 5 if you count remakes.

-Clockers was based on the book of the same name by author Richard Price who also was a screenwriter for this film. Many of his books eventually got film adaptations such as Freedomland, The Wanderers, and Bloodbrothers. Price also had a hand in writing for the 2000 remake of Shaft, Streets of Gold, and most famously The Wire. The original Clockers book took place in New Jersey instead of New York City.

-Do you want to know who was a producer of Clockers who was originally planned to be the director before Spike Lee took the job? Martin Scorsese! Yes, this is all too true. Clockers feels oddly like a supergroup of filmmakers and actors in hindsight.

-Hilarious in Hindsight: Clockers is part of Spike Lee’s Chronicles of Brooklyn series which means this takes place in the same universe as Do the Right Thing. When you consider that John Turturro and Spike Lee have roles in this movie, it is REALLY hard not to think about Pino and Mookie respectively when they talk to each other. What would happen if they were in the same proximity to each other? Hahaha! Going back to John Turturro, one could argue that he went from being a crooked cop to a mobster 27 years later as Carmine Falcone in The Batman (2022)! Wow, how many movies do I have to review that involve cast members from the newest incarnation of DC’s beloved superhero after Andy Serkis (Mowgli) and Barry Keoghan (Black ’47)?

-Wrestling Fan Bonus: Andre’s nickname is “The Giant”. The reference is obvious. Yes, that’s also the same guy who played Fezzik in The Princess Bride, for those scoring at home.

-Video Game Fan Bonus: Sega was one of the sponsors of Clockers. You can clearly see Tyrone playing on a Genesis controller (or a Mega Drive controller depending on what country you’re from) and one scene has a Virtua Fighter arcade cabinet clearly in view at Rodney’s barbershop. One can say the latter example was a wild vision to see.

-The ending theme “Love Me Still” was performed by Chaka Khan and Bruce Hornsby. The latter example has done musical work for other Spike Lee joints (Red Hook Summer was one example I covered). Chaka Khan is someone you should know since she has famous songs such as “I Feel For You”, “I’m Every Woman”, and “Ain’t Nobody” among other notable songs.

What do you know? I’m covering a mainstream movie for once. Who would’ve seen that coming? You know I’ve reviewed movies from mainstream distributors before even though they usually aren’t popular examples. This example was considered a box office failure since it only raked in over $13 million and it was made with a $25 million budget. Even though I didn’t hear about this movie until somewhat recently, I’m quite shocked in hindsight given how many notable names were involved. You have Spike Lee in the director’s chair, Martin Scorsese as a producer, singers such as Chaka Khan, Des’ree and Seal as part of the soundtrack (an acoustic version of “Crazy” plays in one scene!), and that’s not counting the actors. There were already established actors such as Harvey Keitel, John Turturro, Keith David, and a debuting Mekhi Phifer involved. Looks like Universal must have been disappointed about not getting returns for this film. Granted, if this was your idiot mainstream film reviewer or blogger who only knows about mainstream movies, they would make fun of it for not being a blockbuster because apparently, movies that don’t do well at the box office are automatically bad in their eyes. I’m sure those same people think only Top 40 stuff is good because it’s popular. Popularity doesn’t always mean something is good.

Will this Spike Lee joint be a case of a good movie that just happened to not do well at the box office?

Clockers takes place in the projects of Brooklyn, New York and it mainly involves the life of Ronald “Strike” Durham. Strike’s occupation is that of a clocker. That’s not someone who works on timepieces if one were to judge the name. It’s a slang term for a drug dealer on the frontlines (parks, streets, etc.), and his boss is a drug lord by night/barber by day named Rodney Little. Rodney considers Strike to be his top dealer, but he’s furious that one of his other trap salesmen Darryl Adams has been stealing his profits when he’s not working at Ahab’s which is a local restaurant. Strike gets an assignment to assassinate Darryl which shocks him since all he’s done is sell drugs and not catch someone’s body. He consults his older and more responsible brother Victor to see if anyone wants to kill Darryl. Moments later, he gets murdered and homicide cops Rocco Klein and Larry Mazilli are on the case as they see a bloodied corpse with four hot dimes in it. Afterward, they find Victor in a church confessing to killing Darryl. The police find this bizarre because unlike his little brother, he isn’t a clocker (much less the fact he doesn’t do any hard drugs), has no criminal record, works two jobs, and is married with two kids. Rocco realizes that Victor’s “admission” of self-defense doesn’t add up, so he decides to question his drug-dealing sibling. There’s a back-and-forth going on between the homicide detectives, Strike, and Rodney’s street pharmacists. Tensions escalate and even a boy named Tyrone who wants to be like Strike despite being smart. Strike even gives Tyrone some video games with the drug money much to the massive chagrin of his mother who hates the clockers with a passion. The mix of crooked cops, drug lords, and a hard-working father who has no business being in jail collide in the heat of the concrete jungle.

Once again, I go back to Spike Lee’s Chronicles of Brooklyn series. I swear most of his movies take place in Brooklyn or at the very least New York City as a whole much like how Stephen King has a ton of stories that take place in Maine or how the Red Hot Chili Peppers reference California in their songs. Getting that out of the way, I went into Clockers blind and there were things worth praising. The acting from the established and debuting actors was great. yeah, I know Harvey Keitel has made a career of playing tough guy characters, but he succeeds in his role of being a thorough gumshoe with a temper as hardcore as his New York accent. Even though he’s trying to solve these murders, he’s weary despite being good at his job and has racist tendencies by using slurs and offensive jokes. Mekhi Phifer may be better known for his work in 8 Mile and being namedropped in the theme song “Lose Yourself”, but this was a solid acting debut. He was only 18 at the time and he invested himself in the role of being this drug dealer who has a passion for train sets of all things, struggles with stomach problems, drinks chocolate milk instead of purp or hard liquor, and doesn’t want to take responsibility for his actions that directly and indirectly affect others. The filmmaking was gritty and creative. Some parts look scary despite the realism, but there were some reactive filmmaking choices. When Strike gets beaten up, the camera falls down and goes sideways which shows his point of view. In the scene where Rocco interrogates Tyrone late in the film (spoilers avoided), the camera work flips between the present moment and the flashback from different angles with the cop showing up at multiple points while sometimes looking directly into the camera like he’s grilling the viewer who were witnesses to that event as a form of subtle fourth-wall-breaking. Clockers isn’t some flashy work like a Baz Luhrman or James Cameron film, and it would look so fake if it was filmed like those directors. The soundtrack was effective with a mix between jazz, R&B, and gangsta rap. The opening theme “People In Search of a Life” by Marc Dorsey was solid and it had the right amount of contrast of a jazzy chilled-out atmosphere as a sharp counterpoint to the montage of bloody crime scenes that are a part of the credits. Chaka Khan’s song during the ending credits felt like a relief after all the intense action that happened. The realism of the story was understated and underrated. Victor’s confession may seem stupid, but it reveals his flaw of caring too much for others more than himself. Strike not striking Rocco (no pun intended) after the cop says the N-word despite being rightfully angry being called that slur isn’t him being wimpy. The most hardcore goon in the hood isn’t going to assault a police officer because they know they would get bodied if they were to dare attack them. It also shows how some of the police officers are corrupt like taking drugs, drinking while driving, and probing people even if they have nothing on them. If this was a Hollywood director from a different community, they wouldn’t try any of that. There were a good amount of twists and turns with the plot and some of the character development. Also, it was great that it doesn’t glorify drugs and gangbanging since it does show that what Strike and the crew are doing is wrong.

Clockers could use some adjusting despite being more than two times right in a day. This movie was made in 1995 and it shows. The fashion, the gangsta rap musical segments, cars, Sega Genesis controllers (Remember when Sega still made gaming consoles?), and even beepers AKA pagers were used in this movie! If you don’t know what a beeper/pager is, then you clearly weren’t around during the 90s. Yes, there were payphones on sight. There, I gave in to that running gag on this blog. There were several characters to keep track of like the rest of Rodney’s crew or the other people who live in the projects. I heard random names and had some trouble remembering who was who besides the main and some supporting characters. There was some controversy with the movie poster because the imagery of the bloody disconnected silhouette was eerily similar to the poster for Anatomy of a Murder which came out in 1959. I get that it was a poster and both movies don’t have the same plot, characters, or even scenes, but this does look like an homage going too far at best or a rip-off at worst. Don’t worry, I will ignore the low-hanging fruit about the movies and series I’ve covered that have been associated with plagiarism controversies as a way to compare and contrast it, but the artist Art Simms should know better since Black people don’t have the same convenience of getting away with copying others in America (tell me how I’m wrong). I don’t want to sound like a prude, but there was way too much swearing in the whole movie even for a Spike Lee joint or any R-rated film. I lost track of all the swears, racial slurs, and even homophobic words where the clockers’ comments of calling the detectives “Homo-sides” (wordplay for homicide detectives as you might guess) is the least offensive thing in that regard even if the reason came from being violated by the cops for drugs in broad daylight. Watching this was an uphill battle because I’m going to call a spade a spade. Clockers is a hood movie. Let’s not kid ourselves here. If I wasn’t clear about this in other reviews, hood films are some of my least favorite genres up there with harem anime and war propaganda films. I’m not against showing the projects on principle, but hood films get into poverty porn and anti-Black propaganda (especially in America) to tell a lie that all Black people live in the ghettos or somehow deserve to live there. That is something I find insulting especially when it’s used for those purposes. Thankfully, Spike Lee’s directing doesn’t glorify the trap or gangbanging which is a huge plus (No, I’m not giving the author Richard Price a pass since he would write for The Wire), but sometimes plays into some of the tropes which I find to be pitfalls.

This isn’t as good as Do the Right Thing, but I did like this better than She’s Gotta Have It and Red Hook Summer. Clockers was a gritty story as to be expected from Lee and there were some standout moments showing the tragedy of getting into the trap life or how one’s actions can ruin someone else’s life even if they weren’t in proximity to them. This was a timely subject back in the mid-90s, but the time period really shows multiple times. It does have a powerful story, but some of those hood film aesthetics anchor it down. Also, a more original poster would’ve been better, but that’s a minor concern since the story, characters, and scenes were original. Clockers is an overlooked part of Lee’s vast portfolio and one of the better installments of the Chronicles of Brooklyn overarching series.

Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1 point if you’re a Spike Lee fan.
-Add 1 point if you like crime dramas.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you don’t like hood films or movies with the scenery involving the projects.
-Subtract 2-5 points if can’t stand too much profanity in your movies.

Pros:
-Creative cinematography and gritty production
-Adept acting on display
-Surprisingly realistic given the situation

Cons:
-The movie screams the mid-90s with the fashion, technology, and gangsta rap moments
-Crowded cast
-Doesn’t fully escape hood film tropes and the poster should’ve been more original

Final Score: 8/10 points

Content Advisory: Clockers is ABSOLUTELY NOT FOR CHILDREN! Drugs, murder, and gangbanging play major roles in the plot. There’s a lot of drinking and smoking including police officers popping shots while driving in the car to a crime scene. However, that’s nothing compared to crack dealing and one scene shows the white powder sitting on a table. The murder footage is extremely bloody with the gunshot wounds and brains leaking out a few cadavers. Even the violence gets gory and Strike even pukes blood due to his medical condition. The character Errol is mentioned to be a child killer. Then there’s the language. There is so much strong language it isn’t even funny and this includes racial slurs against the Black and Latinx communities as well as homophobic slurs including a Spanish example when someone says it when he’s being violated by the cops to see if he has drugs. There’s sexual dialogue and partial male nudity when some people get nearly strip-searched for drugs and guns.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Clockers is property of Universal. The DVD cover is from Amazon and is property of Universal.

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