Frank White may not be up there alongside Michael Corleone or Tony Montana as the most notable of onscreen crimelords, but the protagonist of Abel Ferrara’s crime masterpiece probably deserves to be. A car crash composite of Michael Corleone’s panache and Tommy DeVito’s insanity, White is the type of suave, sophisticated and utterly psychotic mobster who would happily shake you by the hand with his right paw while plugging you full of 9mm holes with the pistol in his left.
And there’s really only one actor who could pull that kind of role off: there’s cool, there’s supercool and then there’s Christopher Walken. Despite utterly convincing performances by the impeccable cast around him (particularly Laurence Fishburne as White’s smart-mouthed second in command), Walken shines the brightest in a charismatic role that seems almost made for him.
White’s also a different kind of gangster from the norm. Just released from prison – and true to type – White decides to take back the streets of New York from the gangsters who have moved in on his territory (namely the Mafia, Triads and Columbians), but, unusually, he’s equally determined to give something back to the community – he wants to save the run-down hospital in his old neighbourhood from closure. In his own mind, he’s not a bad guy, just a businessman, and, as he states to the cop leading the investigation into his murderous spree, he only kills those who deserve it.
King Of New York is most definitely Walken’s movie, strutting through the film as confidently as White stalks the darkened streets of the Big Apple, but it’s unmistakably Ferrara’s, too. The director’s characteristic stamp is all over the film, bringing his gritty vision and dynamic style to both the grimy back alleys of the city and the shiny high society hangouts that White frequents. The film is also as violent as you’d expect from the director of The Driller Killer and Bad Lieutenant, with one particular shoot out and subsequent car chase a brutal highlight in a film full of visceral intensity.
Although largely dismissed on its original release due to opening at the same time as Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Ferrara’s film deserves attention and Arrow’s Blu-ray release is most welcome. King Of New York is not just a good crime thriller but also an excellent, provocative, well-scripted and perfectly portrayed film, and one of the director and Walken’s very best.
EXTRAS ★★★★ As well as packaging the film in a rather lovely Steelbook, with new artwork by Tom ‘The Dude Designs’ Hodge (the artist behind the sleeves for Vamp and Hobo With A Shotgun), Arrow has also packed the disc with lots of excellent extras. Included are a collector’s booklet by Brad Stevens, author of Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision; two audio commentaries: one by the director, the other with composer Joe Delia, producer Mary Kane, casting director Randy Sabusawa and editor Anthony Redman; an all-new interview with Ferrara; an interview with producer Augusto Caminito; a featurette, Abel Ferrara: Not Guilty, from French TV show Cinéastes De Notre Temps (Blu-ray only); A Short Film About The Long Career Of Abel Ferrara, which offers an overview of Ferrara’s career via talking heads with those who have worked with him; and three original trailers (two exclusive to the Blu-ray). There has been some Internet criticism of the 5.1 audio transfer, but this doesn’t detract too much from what is a very impressive release by Arrow, which has gone to town on making this an essential purchase for both Ferrara and crime genre fans.