Clockers (Lee, 1995)

There’s a great film somewhere in Spike Lee’s Clockers, but the bloated running time and preachy themes get in the way. This epic character piece set in the projects of Brooklyn deals with the life of drug dealers and the violent consequences they inflict on the human landscape. A sometimes brutal and always conflicted film, Clockers never quite adds up to the sum of it’s beautiful and well made parts. Anchored by Mekhi Phifer’s incendiary performance and Terrence Blanchard’s harmonic score, Clockers speaks loud and clear about gang violence and it’s affects on community. Often and in your face, this urban melodrama has plenty of overt racial and class axes to grind and it’s relentless in the pursuit of some closure or solution. Much of the plot becomes illogical by film’s end, and Lee doesn’t seem concerned at all. It’s all about the message and this is where Spike Lee often gets in trouble. I’ve never been able to figure out why he often clobbers subtlety in favor of obvious preaching. His best films (25th Hour, Do the Right Thing, and He Got Game) allow the story to reveal the message, not the other way around. Clockers, above all other things, stings most when it silently shows the cycles of violence consuming all involved, meticulously pacing between past and present through stunning visuals and burning memories. These are the moments crying out for more, not the heavy handed diatribes weighing the overall product down.

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