I checked out Clockers after finishing Richard Price's novel of the same name. Price was one of the lead writers on The Wire, my favorite show of all time by a large margin. His book covered many of the same complexities of the cop/drug dealer world as the show. As excited as I was by the book and by much of Lee's work, I couldn't wait to check out the movie.
Unfortunately, I found it to be one of Lee's weakest movies. The novel is a sprawling 700 pages. The movie follows Rocco, a New York City cop investigating a murder, and Strike, a young drug dealer under the sway of a drug kingpin who is involved with the murder. In order to condense the plot, the characters complexities are greatly reduced and several are turned into caricatures. Lee tries to put so much into this movie. The same material would have been covered in 6 or 7 episodes of The Wire and, thus, given the viewers a much deeper understanding of the characters. Nevertheless, Lee does prove an able director. There are some beautiful camera shots, and Mekhi Phifer is excellent as the young dealer. Nevertheless, on the whole it felt a little sketched in and incomplete. Perhaps The Wire has ruined other cop movies for me.
The Best of Spike Lee
While Clockers was somewhat disappointing, I do usually admire (and sometimes love) Spike Lee as a director. While his ambition can get the better of him, at his best he is an expert and providing electric, thought-provoking entertainment. Here are my "Top 5" Lee movies. If you haven't seen any of them, I recommend checking them out right away.
1. Do the Right Thing (1989): 20 years later, and Lee's tale of racial dynamics and unrest in Brookyn still packs a thought-provoking wallop. He provides a vibrant mix of actors and characters and serves up no easy answers. The fact that this movie was denied a Best Picture nomination (the year that Driving Miss Daisy won) ranks as one of the most egregious Oscar mistakes of all time.
2. Malcolm X (1992): Lee's soaring biopic of Malcolm X is important filmmaking that is never boring, a frequent fault of screen biographies. Denzel Washington losing the Best Actor Oscar ranks as another awful oversight.
3. 25th Hour (2002): This is a great film that I think was unjustly ignored by many critics. This movie follows Monty Brogan (Edward Norton), a drug dealer in his last night in New York before going to prison. Lee produces an elegiac and mournful movie. While this movie mostly addresses race only tangentially, its most powerful scene involves Norton's tirade against his city. Its a great scene, one that shows Norton's profane rage and (ultimately) love for his city.
4. Get on the Bus (1996): Lee's movie of a group of men traveling across the county to the Million Man March allows him to explore the complexity of black males and their relationship to one another and America. Fascinating stuff.
5. Inside Man (2006): Hugely entertaining heist film. Lee lets loose and provides two hours of clever fun, along with some social commentary (but not too much). The great cast is led by Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, and Christopher Plummer.
Runners-Up: Crooklyn, He Got Game, Summer of Sam