In Brooklyn a young man called Strike (Mekhi Phifer) takes up hustling for a local drug boss, Rodney (Delroy Lindo). When a murder takes place, and Strike’s brother Victor (Isaiah Washington) is arrested, Strike comes to the attention of NYPD homicide detectives Rocco Klein and Larry Mazilli (Harvey Keitel and John Turturro).
This is one of Lee’s most serious films, with a far more naturalistic visual style than much of his other work. While films like Get On the Bus, Crooklyn and Do The Right Thing all deal with serious issues and are often realistic and dramatic, they are also bright and humorous, thanks in part to Lee’s visual style. Clockers keeps the focus well and truly on the drama, in some of Lee’s most hard hitting stuff, with a greater level of violence than his other work.
All the characters here are flawed, and Lee remains typically non judgemental. The people in this film are a product of the area they were born into, but this is never used as an excuse for their actions. He coaxes strong performances from his cast, and only pops up for a brief cameo himself, compared to the more substantial parts he usually takes.
With more hardcore drug use, there is far less sense of community and camaraderie than in his other films, with suspicion and hostility ruling the day. The soundtrack is a mixture of pop and more serious orchestral sounding music to set the tone for the darker scenes.
Here Lee shows that you don’t need to constantly discuss problems to address them in film, and makes a gripping drama in the process. As forthright as La Haine and as honest as Precious, Clockers refuses to dumb down and is all the better for it.