Review: King Of New York (1990)


I am the king of my living room! Well, actually my dog is, but any dog owner can appreciate the reasons for my deference.

Written By: Nicholas St. John
Directed By: Abel Ferrara

King Of New York is incredibly slick and has a well polished sheen to it. Christopher Walken is the very definition of cool in his portrayal of Frank White, while Laurence Fishburne is deliciously craven as Jimmy Jump. But, all the fancy glitter, colorful lights and a couple of good performances can’t make up for a complete lack of direction. I sense that Abel Ferrara wants to use Frank White to say something about the lines blurring between good and evil, or about how evil men will do what evil men will do. However, while I am able to sense what Ferrara is going for, that doesn’t mean it ever comes across in the movie in any clear fashion. King Of New York spends too much time asking too many of the wrong questions and making the viewer think about immaterial matters not central to the theme, the plot or the characters.

Cool was how I described Walken as Frank White, and that is about the best definition that character could hope to receive. Walken is endlessly cool as White, whether it is from his far off glances, his devil may care attitude towards all situations or his interesting body mannerisms. Laurence Fishburne is the exact opposite as Jimmy Jack, he’s not cool, he is out of control. It’s an out of control we don’t mind necessarily, but it’s still an out of control we recognize will come to a bad end. Both actors inhabit their characters wholly and their performances are great because of their willingness to transform themselves into Frank White and Jimmy Jack. King Of New York could have done a lot with their characters, but it falters and you end up with two dynamic characters inhabiting a world that doesn’t make sense. It certainly doesn’t help that every other character in the film seems like a two bit knock off of some other character from some other movie or a vapid caricature. Walken and Fishburne stand out from the rest, but despite their best efforts they aren’t able to elevate the material on hand to another level.

There’s a lot to like about King Of New York, the aforementioned Walken and Fishburne performances, and the visual style of the film is definitely a strength of the film. King of New York is all harsh grays and blacks mixed with neon brightness, it is a very interesting and unique neo-noir style. But, that is King Of New York’s biggest problem, it is all style and no substance. The themes are never clearly defined, the plot never feels like it matters and it never gels into an actual story. King Of New York feels like half of a picture, and half of a picture just isn’t good enough.




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