New Jack City
Crime dramas traditionally present a peculiar insight into the time and place they are set. In the so called roaring twenties bootlegged alcohol was the focus of organized crime. A bit later in post Great Depression America the ban robber was hailed as a modern day Robin Hood stealing from the rich bankers whose greed collapsed the economy of the world. The great demon of the late twentieth century was drugs. In the sixties pot was the dominant drug of choice for the hippy generation moving on to cocaine in the greedy, self centered eighties. Then as the nineties a powerful and deadly variation was created, free base cocaine better known by the street name of crack. It is easy from a chemical and practical point of view to alter the molecule from the aqueous soluble form to a rock like configuration that when exposed to heat and smoked produces a rapid, powerful and very short lived high, one of the most addictive substances ever known. This made it ideal of a criminal looking to get extremely wealthy in an incredibly brief span of time. While not a criminal organization the film industry has been just as responsive to new illegal trends and the rise of new criminal activity. If it is in the headlines it is on the mind on the movie going public and therefore foundation for new films. In 1991 cinema took on the crack epidemic in full forced with ‘New Jack City’. Fundamentally this is the tradition thirties style mob flick reset with crack replacing bath tub gin and street gangs occupying the roles formerly held by mob families of the twenties. While it did help introduce the general public of the dangers inherent in crack both as property of the drug but more importantly inherent in the violence and collateral damage that expends far beyond the people involve to the innocents trying to go peacefully about their routine. From a movie perspective it provided a kick start to many notable careers on both sides of the camera. Like many films made just before the advent of DVD it is about to get a re-release.
With the growing number of crack addicts in most major cities rapidly became a plague for the police and a new gold rush like opportunity for the criminal. ‘New Jack City’ does make a reasonable attempt to so crack from both vantage points. On the side of the law of the law are New York City detective Stone (Mario Van Peebles) is charged with putting together a team to indentify the main players in the crack trade and bring them down. Choices to work this incentive are undercover detectives Scotty Appleton (Ice-T) and Nick Peretti (Judd Nelson). Both are fiercely independent operatives known for working outside the strict letter of the law. They are the ends justify the means type of cops utilized in crime films since the earliest flicks. On the other side of the crack war is a street smart dealer with a considerable amount of ambition, Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes). His crew known as CMB; ‘Cash Money Brothers’ are on the verge of taking control of the New York City Crack cocaine market. Nino constructs his crew modeled by the precepts of the modern big business. Using this paradigm his Chief Operating Officer is his trusted friend, Gee Money (Allen Payne) while the pretty but sadistically violent Keisha (Vanessa Williams) serves as head of executive security. She can change from looking like a lost little girl to cold blooded murder in a heartbeat.
The idea that G Money and Nino devise is to do away with dealing drugs on isolated street corners. Too much of the operation is left in the open and vulnerable. As with any business location is crucial so Nino’s army of thugs descends on a housing project and scare out the tenants viscously controlling the small number unable to move. The set of buildings it turned into crack factory where the product is manufacture, packaged and sold all within the well guarded walls of this drug citadel. There is even a nightmarish section set aside where for a fee the clientele can get high. Scotty and Nick manage to get an informant to infiltrate the operation, Pookie (Chris Rock), an addict Scotty busted. The siren’s call of being around the drug plunges Pookie into relapse but not before he sneaks a camera into the operation. He shows the detectives how professionally run the business is with money rooms, computer controlled security and air tight, heavily armed security all around. The general concusses of the detectives is the CMB is no punk street gang, they are a full fledge criminal enterprise.
The film was at the time one of the most successful independent films hailed and denounced for many the same reasons. The film depicted an extreme level of brutality not only among the criminals but directly against the innocent people who were in the way of criminal progress. There is a wedding scene that turns into a bloodbath murdering guest, gang members on both sides and lamentable catering staff. Many found the most frightening aspects of the film is the brutal efficiency displayed by the criminals. The criminals had better weaponry and employed superior technology then that available to the police giving the appearance of far better organization. You might find the use of 8086 style computer as state of the art but just imagine what the crooks can do with multi threaded quad core PCs. The film marks the change in careers for Ice-T from gangster rapper to actor. He worried about it ruining his street credentials but it survived his excellent performance here. in fact his reputation was strong enough to survive playing a humanoid kangaroo in ‘Tank Girl’. this movie also put Wesley Snipes on the map and noticed by casting directors for leading man roles. Mario Van Peebles had already begun his acting career at this point but this was his freshman feature film behind the camera, as the son of Mario Van Peebles, the original Shaft, that crime films was in his blood. His style was so natural and realistic that many felt it had a documentary feel to it. Now with a re-release you can experience the original modern gangster film. Having this film remastered in Blu—ray brings out details in both the audio and video even someone who has watched it many times has missed. The video exhibits some degree of aging but overall it is crisp with a very well balanced and saturated color pallet. The TruHD Dolby audio is fuller than previous versions but fails to use the full extent of the format.