Film Review – King of New York (1990)

Title – King of New York (1990)

Director – Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant)

Cast – Christopher Walken, Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, David Caruso, Giancarlo Esposito, Victor Argo

Plot – New York City drug kingpin Frank White (Walken) is released from prison with his sights set on taking on the criminal empires of the city in order to give back to his community and assume control of the mean and violent streets.  

“A nickel bag gets sold in the park, I want in. You guys got fat while everybody starved on the street. Now it’s my turn”

Review by Eddie on 29/04/2020

A film whose reputation has only grown in the years since its release, where it was initially a well-reviewed if under the radar event, King of New York is an atmospheric and unique crime thriller that is one of controversial director Abel Ferrara’s more accessible pieces of work.

Filmed in an almost exclusively night-time/early morning hue, King tells the layered but not overly in-depth story of Christopher Walken’s crime boss Frank White, who upon release from a prison stint decides to take back control of his city in anyway he finds possible as he looks to rid the streets of other criminals and corrupt cops as he in turn sets about fixing a city that has let itself get into a state of disrepair and potential ruin.

White is the perfect character for Walken’s wide-eyed and manic persona, a role that see’s the well-liked actor deliver one of his most memorable lead turns, chewing on quotable dialogue and even dancing his way through the screen time King affords him but White remains a relatively aloof figure throughout Ferrara’s film as we are kept at arm’s length from the inner workings of a figure we would’ve loved to know more about.

What makes White tick? Where did he get his start? What lead him to get caught up in prison? There all questions worth asking but questions we only ever get slight answers to or not at all as Ferrara seems far more pre-occupied with King’s stylistic flourishes or the confronting violence that has peppered his long-standing career in the movie industry.

In these components, King finds its elements that have led to its increasing standing amongst the 90’s pool of cinematic offerings, as Ferrara’s unique world view, eye for detail and ability to showcase the vibrancy but also the underbelly of Earth’s most famous and renowned cities is front and centre throughout a criminal tale with a difference from many of its counterparts.

Alongside this is the noteworthy supporting turns from the likes of a gloriously hammy Laurence Fishburne as White’s right-hand man Jimmy Jump, a very early Wesley Snipe’s performance as upstart NYC cop Thomas Flanigan with the addition of TV stalwarts David Caruso and Giancarlo Esposito, making King a time-capsule of its period that makes for intriguing watching these 30 or so years on.

It’s unlikely that today we’d ever see a film like this made, King is a film unto its own and while it leaves a lot to be desired narratively and also fails to emotionally connect, it’s an intriguing watch regardless as Ferrara crafts a product unlikely to ever be copied moving forward.

Final Say –

Not a perfectly rounded whole, King of New York features a quality Christopher Walken performance and a unique few of its titular city making it worthy of tracking down for all those that may’ve missed it those many moons ago.

3 fire hydrants out of 5

2 responses to “Film Review – King of New York (1990)

  1. Thanks Eddie, I appreciate that you are keeping “Eddie” of The Movie Guys going with reviews like this one. While I don’t recall the events of this film, I do remember liking it. My tastes have changed over the years so I might only give it three “fire hydrants”, as well, but as you mentioned, the cast is outstanding, and the movie seems a good vehicle for them to shine in. If you hadn’t brought this movie to mind, I might not have thought about it again. Thanks for that.

    • My pleasure Brendan, its always nice to go back and check out films of yesteryear especially with not as much new content right at the minute.

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