Clockers [1995]

Based on the riveting bestseller by Richard Price, this 1995 crime drama was directed by Spike Lee with such authority and authenticity that it has the hyper-real quality of a stylized documentary. Fully capturing the thoroughly researched detail of Price's novel, the film focuses on Strike (newcomer Mekhi Phifer), a young, ambitious "clocker"--or drug dealer--who works the streets of his New York housing project, selling drugs for a local supplier named Rodney (played with ferocious charisma by Delroy Lindo). Just as Strike is struggling to get away from his dead-end life of crime, another dealer is murdered in a fast-food restaurant and local detectives (Harvey Keitel, John Turturro) consider Strike the primary suspect. In cowriting the script with novelist Price, Lee uses this murder mystery to explore the plague of guns and black-on-black crime in America's inner cities, in which drugs and death are familiar routines of daily life. The film doesn't pretend to offer solutions, nor does it dwell on the problem with numbing insistence. Rather, this taut, well-acted film takes the viewer into a world often hidden in plain sight--a world where options seem nonexistent for youth conditioned to have little or no expectation beyond a probable early death. Lee and Price are deadly serious in handling this volatile subject (which incorporates racism, powerless law enforcement, and political indifference), but Clockers is also blessed with humor, insight, and humanity. It's one of Lee's most confidently directed films, signaling a creative maturity that Lee continued to develop throughout the 1990s. --Jeff Shannon

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