Director Lee highlights inner city stresses

"Clockers" is showing at Century Park 16, 620-0750.

"Clockers," directed by Spike Lee, written by Lee and Richard Price based on his novel, starring Harvey Keitel (Rocco Klein), John Tuturro (Larry Mazilli), Mekhi Phifer (Strike Dunham), and Delroy Lindo (Rodney Little).

By Doug Cummings

Arizona Daily Wildcat

With the proliferation of recent urban drug "gangsta" films like "Boyz N the Hood" and "Menace II Society," movies have depicted street life with flamboyant violence and shocking blood baths. Apparently, the idea is to condemn street violence by overplaying it. While this tactic has arguably not been proven to be amazingly productive, it's good to see someone of Spike Lee's stature making a film that dwells on the emotional complexities and social pressures that make the street culture so appealing and truly insidious.

"Clockers" is the new film by Spike Lee, the director of "Do the Right Thing" and "Malcolm X." The film is based on Richard Price's award-winning novel of the same name that takes as its subject the lowest level of drug peddlers, "clockers," who derive their name from the fact that they work the street corners 24 hours a day.

The central character is Strike Dunham, an inner city teenager who has worked himself up to a position of authority within a clockers gang led by the protective but dangerous Rodney. Rodney teaches his protăgăs financial responsibility ("Why do you buy ten pairs of tennis shoes when you only have one pair of feet?") and forces them to do their homework, but paradoxically gives them drugs to sell and crimes to perform.

Rodney tells Strike to rob a convenience store and the next morning, the store attendant is found dead riddled with several bullets. The police are confounded, however, when Strike's brother Victor, a respected family man, confesses to the shooting and turns himself in, pleading self-defense.

During his investigation, Rocco Klein, played by the always watchable Harvey Keitel, becomes convinced they arrested the wrong Dunham. "Something doesn't fit right," he complains, "And everything has to fit right for me when I'm working on a case." Rocco begins informally interrogating Strike, who denies he had any involvement with the murder.

The movie fascinatingly explores the pressures surrounding Strike. He begins to develop ulcers from the stress of selling crack and constantly being roughly searched and interrogated by the police. Rocco continues to hound him, the community parents rebuke his influence on youthful African-Americans, and his co-workers begin to get suspicious from the amount of time Strike spends talking to the police.

Lee and his first-time cinematographer, Malik Sayeed, film the movie in a graphic, high-contrasted way. The colors are over saturated and the images begin to resemble intense etchings. The harsh style fits with the subject matter and the colors seem as violent as the pressures mounted on top of the clockers.

The movie explores role model relationships through Strike's mentor Rodney and a younger youth who befriends Strike. Clockers are groomed and just as Rodney tells Strike not to use the crack, but to see it as a business opportunity, Strike begins enticing his younger protăgă until the film's shocking conclusion.

"Clockers" is a visually impressive foray into the street culture that is more often than not depicted solely in terms of the violence it is criticized for inspiring. "Clockers" shows that a culture of illegality does not rule out individuals with complex emotional lives and social concerns. Thankfully, Lee suggests that escape lies beyond simply "correcting the violence," but instead comes from within the individual members of inner city culture.

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