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Strange drama and great visuals give depth to Clockers

Clockers

Directed by Spike Lee.

Written by Richard Price and Spike Lee.

Starring Harvey Keitel, John Turturro, Delroy Lindo, and Mekhi Phipher.

Sony Fresh Pond Theater

By David V. Rodriguez

Agood storyteller must find a balance between realism and drama - too much realism leads to boredom, but too much drama may make a story unbelievable. In his latest movie, Clockers, Spike Lee leans towards drama and it pays off nicely. Some slightly unbelievable scenes may result, but the story and characters are interesting enough to more than compensate.

The story revolves around Swift, a small-time drug dealer who sells from the benches of his housing project. He has been living this life for some time and it begins to take its toll on him: his ulcer is the most obvious effect. He wants desperately to get off the benches - enough so that when his boss Rodney offers him a promotion for murder, Swift accepts.

But we soon see that Swift has no taste for killing. On the evening before the killing, Swift tries to convince his brother Victor to do the killing. Soon the man is dead, and we don't know who the killer is.

Police officer Rocco, played by Harvey Keitel, is assigned to the case just in time to hear Victor confess to the murder. But Rocco, who refuses to believe Victor is the killer, sees him as one of the good ones. Victor doesn't deal drugs or have any history of crime; plus, he works two jobs to support his family. Rocco interviews all of the people he worked with, and they all say great things about him. He finds it inconceivable that Victor would kill someone.

Rocco comes to believe the real killer is Swift, and that Victor is willing to take the blame in hopes of receiving a light punishment. He has no evidence of Swift's guilt, but hopes that if he stays in Swift's face he will eventually make a mistake to reveal himself, unable to let his brother go to jail.

Most of the first 45 minutes is spent creating the characters and giving them depth, largely by putting them into conversations in where they can show their good side. This becomes a mixed bag: we learn more about the characters, but these conversations often seem artificial and show up at unexpected and often unmotivated times. Lee succeeds in pumping up his characters, but often too much so; by introducing each character as an honorable person the movie loses credibility.

If the movie may at first appear to be Lee's defense of criminal lifestyle, this weakness is quickly fixed. As we learn more about each character, we discover that the movie is not a complete defense.

Clockers certainly does look like a Spike Lee movie - his characteristic cinematography is the most obvious feature. Viewers may think this makes his movies look like music videos, but it would be more accurate to say that music videos try to look like Spike Lee films. Clockers is definitely a beautiful looking film, and this is reason enough to see it in the theatre.