King of New York (1990) (R)

Once again we are met with a movie whose rating is in question. I present this movie as rated "R" because I think that's what it deserves and that's what most other sources I've seen have it listed as.
Frank White (Christopher Walken) is a powerful man. He's not someone that you want to mess with. Probably the most ruthless man in all of New York his royal moniker as given to him in the title is properly deserved.
"King of New York" begins on the day that Frank gets out of prison, serving an unknown time. He simply says that he has spent "half his life" in jail, so we can deduce the rest. But there is something inside him that's been itching to get out, and it's not any of the creatures from "Alien".
His power is unquestionable and his minions follow his word without hesitation which is one of the problems that the movie has, simply because of its racial divide. Each mob boss has a crew of a different race. There are Hispanics, Italians, and African Americans. These henchmen serve each boss respectively and they don't mix well together. Frank has an almost entirely black ensemble and sometimes it feels as if the movie is treating them, self-referentially, like furniture.
One of the more prominent in Frank's group is Jimmy Jump (Laurence Fishburne), who is just as eccentric as his name might imply. Jimmy is the muscle and threat end of the operation and Frank holds him dearly to his chest.
There are other characters to this story too, there are many henchmen, many minions, many foes, many lovers; but what the film doesn't realize is that for appearing so important and self-aggrandizing, it really is about nothing.
Frank gets out of jail and rules the city and he has opposition. That much you could pretty much deduce from the title and that much is entirely what happens in "King of New York". Now, there is much to love about the movie. There are particular moments that shine and others that drag on too long; but all-in-all it's very well made and very enjoyable. The only pity is that the story is so hollow.
Christopher Walken does a nice job here and the music helps him. There is a certain poetry to this crime story; but it feels like it needed another half an hour that got cut in the editing room to pull it all together.
A group of cops versus Frank White. What a nice setup and what a nice way to give us moral conundrums. Everyday that Frank remains out of jail is another day that the police are trailing him, hoping to pick up the bodies. He kills as he moves along, leaving a trail of cadavers (all unattached and impossible to trace) behind him.
So the question becomes, what would you do to stop the unspeakable evil? Would you become the evil?
It's a question that many movies and many books have raised and sadly the answer here is somewhat childish. Sometimes hard things need to be done, sometimes bad things happen, sometimes "good" just isn't enough. There's a lot of complexity that lies underneath it all that you can dig through and I really appreciate that about the movie; and it's a question that cannot be answered, yet the movie tries to answer it.
Kill or be killed? Fight fire with fire? I'll let you decide what you think about it all.
Though "King of New York" is poetic and vast and somehow tragic, it never once feels complete and leaves you wondering what it all meant and why you wasted your time. It's not a bad movie, but it was too good in moments to merit the forgiveness of some plot holes.

Score: ★★½

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