Dusting Off… King of New York
What is it?
Abel Ferrera’s 1990 film stars Christopher Walken as Frank White, a sociopathic former New York crime kingpin who is released from prison after a long stretch inside Sing Sing prison for drug dealing offences. On his release, he sets about improving his notorious public image by making donations to hospitals and charities, but at the same time he is also out to claim back the streets of New York and take control of the city’s crime once more.
White is a kind of self-styled Robin Hood character, killing his enemies and promising their employees better treatment and a bigger cut of the profits if they work for him instead. Meanwhile though, the police are falling for none of his public good deeds and are determined to get him back behind bars, but White has friends in high places and the cops soon realise that if they want to catch him, playing by the book isn’t going to work.
Alongside Walken, the cast list is an impressive one that includes Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, David Caruso and Giancarlo Esposito.
Why should I revisit?
It seems odd now, but at the time of its release the initial reaction to the film was overwhelmingly negative, largely as a result of the films many violent scenes. Reportedly, Ferrera’s own wife walked out of the premiere and at a Q&A session after the film’s second showing, Caruso and Fishburne were booed off the stage.
There are any number of ‘gangster’ films set in and around New York, but few are shot, acted and directed with as much style and panache as Ferrera’s film and although commercially it wasn’t as big a hit as the likes of The Godfather and Goodfellas, it has become a cult classic and fully deserves to be in the company of Scorcese and Coppola’s films.
The acting is excellent all round but Walken is on his absolute best form as the psychopathic crime boss. It’s also one of the most quotable films of its type and sections of its dialogue have been sampled by countless artists, particularly in the hip-hop genre, including Common and Biggie Smalls among many others.
Who will enjoy it?
If you’re a fan of Ferrera’s films, or Christopher Walken,and you’re not put off by the excessive violence in the film (and there is a lot of it, by the way), then King of New York is well worth a watch for any who have yet to see it. This is gritty stuff, and don’t expect too much of the romance you would associate with Coppola’s films about mobsters. Frank White may not be the most lovable character but as a murderous drug lord he is terrifyingly convincing. If you like a little more realism in your gangster films then this definitely a film for you.