KING OF NEW YORK (1990)

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KING OF NEW YORK (1990)
Directed by Abel Ferrara

Gangster Frank White is released from prison after a long stint inside and looks to regain control of New York city by taking out rival gangs. When mob leaders start turning up dead, a group of policemen decide to take the law into their own hands to take down the rising kingpin of the New York criminal underworld.

Neo-noir crime thriller KING OF NEW YORK throws the viewer into the inner-workings of the urban, New York underworld as Frank White rubs shoulders with the elite by day and gets his hands bloody by night.

First things first about this film – what an absolute stonker of a cast! Your eyes will be on stalks at the opening credits as the names roll down the screen, listing such talent as Larry Fishburne (how Laurence Fishburne was known in his younger acting days), Wesley Snipes, David Caruso, Steve Buscemi, Giancarlo Esposito and Victor Argo, with Christopher Walken taking the titular crown as Frank White. If Walken is the King, Larry Fishburne is definitely the prince, stealing every single scene he’s in as the head henchman with swagger, Jimmy Jump. With his hat sitting upon his head, chunk gold chain hanging around his neck and matching gold teeth, Jimmy’s visage matches his personality perfectly as he travels around the city taking out White’s opponents to consolidate his boss’s status as top dog.

In contrast to his lieutenant Jimmy, Frank White looks nothing like your typical mobster but don’t let the inches-high bouffant fool you. Behind those steely eyes is a calculating, clever man who’s always one step ahead of his rivals. However, White is different from your ordinary gangster. He seems to have a heart, at least, and is bothered when there’s talk of a local hospital closing down, stating that healthcare should be for all, not just for the rich. Talking about his aspirations to be mayor of New York city, White has some grand plans. Whether he wants to take control to give back to his community or to just hold power over the entire city is not entirely clear. He seems more motivated than his rivals who are only out for themselves. White, it appears, is looking to improve his community and give others a chance, especially seeing how much the community has gone downhill whilst he was in prison. New gangs have popped up, taking over street corners and peddling drugs on what was once his turf. White’s crew, led by his animated lieutenant, have been picking off the smaller outfits whilst White was away, but now he’s back, they’re looking to clean out the entire city to put White firmly on the throne.

Gritty, savage and merciless are just a few words to describe KING OF NEW YORK. There’s no pleasantries here but neither is everything black or white. The people in high places are just as corrupt as the gangs, and even the police aren’t straight with a penchant for taking things into their own hands. Despite knowing how ruthless White can be, you can’t help but side with him and Jimmy Jump as they face off against the other gangs and even NYC cops Dennis Gilley and Thomas Flanigan, played by David Caruso and Wesley Snipes respectively. Annoyed at how White is escaping their grasp and continuing to pick off the opposition, Gilley and Flanigan decide they need to play White at his own game, despite their chief, Roy Bishop (Victor Argo), warning them not to. It seems like there’s history between Bishop and White, with Bishop’s goal to take down White once and for all but through the correct police procedure whereas Bishop’s men are prepared to break the law themselves and get their hands dirty to get White’s crew once and for all. Gilley and Flanigan come off as bigger jerks than White’s gang, which makes the viewer side with White until we witness White and Jimmy killing without remorse. What’s evident here is that there’s no winners, just losers, with death looming in the midst for every single one of them. It’s only a matter of time.

There’s never a dull moment in Abel Ferrara’s slickly-shot crime thriller. KING OF NEW YORK maintains a tempo that never misses a beat as it takes you on White’s journey to the top. It feels unrelenting and real, giving you an inside look at life on the streets, resulting in 103 minutes of cinema that just simply flies by. The performances are exceptional with captivating interactions during the quieter moments as well as the action-packed, bullet-ridden scenes. It’s bold and brash at times, but nothing can quite top the scenes of intimidation between two rival outfits as you wonder who’ll be the one to react first.

The night’s neon-lit city landscape comes alive in Arrow Video’s stunning Blu-Ray 4K restoration, approved by Abel Ferrara and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, however the default LPCM stereo audio track that accompanies it  is a bit too muddy to be able to hear exactly what the cast are saying. Fortunately, the 5.1 audio track is a definite improvement and brings together all the elements of the sounds of the city whilst allowing the dialogue to be heard clearly. The film is also available in 4K UHD if you’re looking for extra visual clarity.

The disc itself comes with interviews with director Abel Ferrara and producer Augusto Caminito, alongside a couple of documentaries about Ferrara’s work. Two audio commentaries, one with Ferrara and the other with composer Joe Delia, producer Mary Kane, casting director Randy Sabusawa and editor Anthony Redman, round off the disc with TV spots, trailers and an image gallery. The release itself comes with a reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Tracie Ching, whilst the first run contains an illustrated collectors booklet containing essays on the film by Iain Sinclair and Abel Ferrara biographer Brad Stevens.

An intense portrayal of urban mob life, KING OF NEW YORK is a 90’s gangster cult classic.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Bat 7431 Articles
I love prosthetic effects, stop-motion animation and gore, but most of all I love a good story! I adore B-movies and exploitation films in many of their guises and also have a soft spot for creature features. I review a wide range of media including movies, TV series, books and videogames. I'm a massive fan of author Hunter S. Thompson and I enjoy various genre of videogames with Kingdom Hearts and Harvest Moon two of my all time favs. Currently playing: The Witcher 2, Yakuza Zero and Alien: Isolation

2 Comments

  1. Yep, how right you are, a real classic
    This film blew my socks off in a way only John Woo’s “the killer” has done, sheer unrelenting violence, with a soul beating underneath the mayhem. Love it

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