Saturday 17 April 2010

Movie Review: The Warriors (1979)

One of the best films ever made is a low-budget comic-style romp with a no-name cast about a gang on the run during one long New York night.

"Can you count suckers? I say the future is ours, if you can count!" --
Cyrus to the 900 assembled gang members.

Director Walter Hill achieves something remarkable in The Warriors. It is one of those rare films where the story, directing, performances, cinematography, lighting and music come together to create a timeless classic. The Warriors is as enjoyable and current today as it was back in 1979. It's not that the film has aged well -- it simply does not age.

"We've been unable to see the truth, because we've been fighting for ten square feet of ground - our turf, our little piece of turf." -- Cyrus again, working the crowd.

In an undefined but not too distant future, 900 members of New York's various gangs gather at night in a Bronx park, including nine members of the Warriors from Coney Island. The meeting is called by the Gramercy Riffs, New York's largest gang, and their leader Cyrus (a masterful Roger Hill) delivers a rousing speech outlining how by maintaining a truce and uniting, the gangs can rule the City.

"Can you dig it? Caaan you dig it? Caaan yoouuuuu diiiigg ittt?" -- Cyrus driving the crowd to a frenzy, just before getting shot.

Luther (David Patrick Kelly), the unhinged leader of the Rogues, shoots Cyrus dead, and loudly blames the killing on the Warriors. The police suddenly descend on the meeting, and in the ensuing chaos of 900 gang members fleeing the scene, the Warriors make their immediate escape, but not before their leader is killed.

The surviving eight Warriors, now led by Swan (Michael Beck) have to make the long journey back to Coney Island, while pursued by the police, the Riffs seeking vengeance and every gang member in New York.

From this simple premise inspired by Greek mythology, Hill weaves a series of unforgettable scenes: Cyrus' speech; the Warriors escaping from the Turnbull AC's bus; the confrontation with the pathetic Orphans; the baseball bat battle in the park with the brilliantly attired Furies; the bruising battle with the roller-skaters in the men's bathroom; the short but stunning across-the-aisle encounter with the grad partiers on the train; Luther taunting the Warriors with the beer bottles; and the final confrontation on the beach. And let's not forget the Riffs' radio announcer who keeps track of the action as it unfolds -- only her lips are ever seen.

"I'll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle." -- Ajax to the Furies before they rumble.

The Warriors contains an almost unfair number of classic moments, all occurring as a natural part of the narrative rather than as pre-announced set-pieces.

The amount of running and non-stop action gives the movie a kinetic energy of its own: The Warriors feels like a power source.

At the same time, Hill manages to inject a lot of humanity into the movie and brings to life several characters, in a film which could have easily been excused for foregoing any individuality. Each member of the Warriors has a persona, including the cool leader Swan; the impulsive Ajax (James Remar); the stalwart Cochise (David Harris); and the young Rembrandt (Marcelino Sanchez). And in a relatively few scenes, David Patrick Kelly creates in Luther a highly-strung, barely-holding-it-together and unforgettable villain.

Into this male dominated world Hill also introduces Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) as the woman from the very wrong side of the tracks who ironically sees the Warriors, for all their trouble, as a means to move up in the world.

"You're just a part of everything that's happened tonight...and it's all bad." -- Swan to Mercy, just after she kisses him.

Barry De Vorzon created a synthesizer-driven music score that adds to the timeless feel of the movie, while Andrew Laszlo's cinematography bring out the best of a subway-focused New York on a rainy summer night. The vivid and sharp colours and lighting of The Warriors, despite the darkness of the night, emphasizes the movie's comics sensibilities.

"Warriors, come out to plaayeeaay!" -- Luther repeatedly taunting the Warriors while methodically clicking three bottles inserted into his fingers.

Controversial upon its theatrical release for causing riots in some theatres as some real gang members got over-excited, The Warriors is an absolute gem of a movie and proof that excellence sometimes emerges from the most unlikely of packages.

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