No regrets. Only revenge
Black is a hired killer, prowling the streets of New York settling scores for whoever has the money to pay him. Wielding guns, knives, and even a chainsaw or two, he is a one-man retribution machine, smooth in his manner but wicked in his heart. Along with his partner, Jah, Black has long sought the opportunity to settle a painful score: his infant son was killed in a drive-by attack by the area's chief gangster, Musa. Days are spent scouring the streets and completing "contracts." Nights are spent in the loving arms of a successful naïve nurse named Semaji. But one night, Black commits an act of senseless brutality that leaves an innocent man dead, and the cold-hearted killer branded with literal blood on his hands. With so many murders on his conscience, but with only a slim chance for redemption in his soul, the issue becomes whether Black can be saved, or if he is destined to forever be part of the cruel, harsh Bloody Streetz?
Bloody Streetz does initially suffer from an awkward, almost purposefully jumbled narrative. We begin with a flash forward, move to a dream sequence, and then start back six months prior (the question is, from what—the dream or the flash forward?). Then add another couple of flashbacks, a revenge/resolution plotline that builds, arcs, and ends with over thirty minutes left in the film, the introduction of a new, ethereal angle to round out the running time, and an ending which seems cribbed from the canon of David Lynch, and it sounds like Bloody Streetz is just a jagged, incoherent mess. But one of the joys of this film is the way in which director Gerald Barclay combines these illogically linear elements, overt stylization, and questionable narrative choices into a cohesive, intriguing work that blends experimentation with secure camera knowledge. Instead of functioning as a straightforward story of a bad man's downfall, Barclay weaves a rich detailed tapestry, moving beyond a formulaic crime drama and into an overall view and vehicle in which to explore all aspects of a character's life and times. Bloody Streetz is a primer for the entire urban ghetto crime experience. Even documentary-style interview footage of an opinionated, Afro-centric philosopher known as "Old Moms" is incorporated into the presentation (as part of a subplot revolving around a college girl's exploration of urban violence for a journalism class), and the clever, always creative directing style integrates it all flawlessly.
But this is not just some groundbreaking mumbo jumbo. For all its violence, Bloody Streetz has a viewpoint as well. It flaunts its radical political ideology throughout the film. Old Moms' message is clear: white society creates black-on-black crime in the ghettos of the US. The government imports the drugs (as it did the slaves) and Western culture dulls the black mind. She champions re-education, and a trip back to the jungle continent for all Americans of African decent. Indeed, the notion of exploiting the "African" nature of the phrase "African American" is one of Bloody Streetz' unique strong points. Black is constantly surrounded by actual Africans, immigrant transplants who either work hard or fall under the spell of easy street corruption and the lure of the media's fascination with hip hop, rap, and crime. The cabdriver whose bizarre manner and grisly death jumpstarts the final twenty minutes of the film is a proud man from the Dark Continent, quick to point out the narrow-minded and ignorant view of American Africans as it pertains to themselves and their homeland. When combined with the realistic, pitch perfect performances (the entire cast is very good), the twisted camera tricks, and the odd yet artistically sound directing choices, the ideology and creativity of Bloody Streetz moves it above and light years beyond the average gritty but sloppy urban hip hop drug and crime drama. Though by no means a masterpiece, it is a uniquely involving experience and labels Gerald Barclay as definitely a filmmaker to watch.
Artisan does an excellent job with the release of this title. Unfortunately, the ad copywriter assigned the job of labeling the package has made some mistakes. The film is not presented in full screen. The image here is in anamorphic widescreen, probably at about a 1.65:1 ratio. It was shot with high definition digital cameras, so there is occasional pixelization in close-ups, and a few scattered instances of compression. But overall, the film has a strong visual look that matches perfectly with the director's style. Sonically, the film offers an intriguing mix of standard rap, urban beats, and smooth R&B with the wild, exciting "high life" style music of Africa and the Caribbean. Unlike other movies that seem to throw random tracks at the score to simple imply a street flavor, Bloody Streetz offers music that truly underscores and highlights the action on the screen, from intense violence to sweet romance. Both the Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 Surround are fine, with some atmospheric tricks (within limited technology) in the separate channels. This DVD is also loaded with extras (again, in deference to the poor labeling). We are treated to a publicity photo gallery; a page-through discussion of the movie, its director and the cast; as well as a full blown director's commentary. Gerald Barclay is articulate, insightful, and very personable. He wants you to share his experience in making the film and the creative choices he made in framing, shot selection, and editing. While most gang films are cheap rip-offs of the Scarface school of drugs and death, Bloody Streetz is a refreshing surprise. It balances the bleakness of urban violence with an ideology and the artistic expression of experimental cinema. It is a very good film.
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