Think of this as a guide through each of Christopher Walken's films, starting with his first and moving forward. Each review will provide analysis, factoids and opinion on the ninety-plus films in his career.

King of New York (1990)

kony frenchGenre: Crime Thriller (gangster)

Walken in Short: Crazy. Brilliant. Violent. Hilarious. Badass. This is major Walken. One of his meatiest roles. Aeons of screen-time, a cascade of great lines, and a double-handful of perfect cinematic moments. In short: this is necessary Walken.

Movie in a Sentence: Newly released from prison, Frank White (Walken) is a crime-boss looking to do more than reclaim his previous status and drug-territory (with the aid of his crazy right-hand-man Jimmy Jump (Laurence Fishburne), he also wants to save a local public hospital from being shut down, because although he acts a bit like a vicious sociopath towards his enemies, he also has a soft-spot for helping the regular, law-abiding citizens of New York.

vlcsnap-2013-04-02-03h22m49s128Director: Abel Ferrara – This is the first time that Abel and Chris worked together. They went on to create three other films: THE ADDICTION (1995), THE FUNERAL (1996), and NEW ROSE HOTEL (1998). All well worth watching, but especially THE FUNERAL. It’s dark, pitch-black really, but Walken’s the lead and there are so many great performances. Such an under-appreciated film.

Writer: Nicholas St. John – He also wrote the next two Ferrara/Walken projects, but not the last, NEW ROSE HOTEL, which is actually based on a short story by the godfather of cyber-fiction William Gibson.

Duration: one hour and 43 minutesvlcsnap-2013-04-02-03h15m52s28

MPAA: This is wisely rated  ‘R’ – there’s sex, violence, drugs; sometimes all at the same time! Lots of it too. Sex? Mostly bared breasteses and thonged buttseses. Drugs? People can’t shovel coke into their brain fast enough, also a couple of joints are passed around. Violence? Yes. A few in particular die a more grisly death than the other 370 or so, but yeah, it gets bloody.

vlcsnap-2013-04-02-03h38m43s205Walken specifically? I don’t believe we see him do coke, but he may take a couple puffs when it comes around. He’s a business man, here. And he’s too classy to fool around with that. He’s got other things on his mind than getting high. Ohhhh but he loves the ladies. His personal bodyguards are all women, and they may or may not be high-class prostitutes, but they are all deadly. Also: his lawyer? Totally hot. There’s one scene where Walken turns on the charm and seduces her in a deserted subway. Keep in mind, there aren’t TOO many semi-graphic (she gets topless, he gets to second-base) sex-scenes out there with Walken in them, but this is one of them.

FUN FACT: According to imdb, the f-bomb is dropped over 90 times! Gosh!

Actors Other Than Walken:

  • Laurence Fishburnevlcsnap-2013-04-02-03h11m22s119plays JIMMY JUMP, Walken’s crazy pimped out lieutenant. He’s so good in this. So confident, energetic, colorful. And he looooves his root beer. Despite their great chemistry together Fishburne and Walken haven’t shared the screen since.
  • Wesley Snipes – plays TOMMY, one of the cops out to get Walken and his crew. I’d say he’s the hot-head of the crew, but they kinda all are, except the leader, played somberly by Victor Argo. One year later Snipes starred in NEW JACK CITY (1991), a film that shares a lot in common with this one.
  • Victor Argo – plays ROY BISHOP, the cop in charge, and him and Walken have been butting heads since way back. Argo has a long cinematic history of playing cops and robbers, but mostly cops. After KONY, Argo appears in several other Walken-films: MCBAIN, TRUE ROMANCE, THE FUNERAL, and NEW ROSE HOTEL.
  • David Carusovlcsnap-2013-04-02-03h30m21s24plays GILLEY, the Irish cop who (surprise surprise), also has a short-temper. Him and TOMMY (Snipes) are great together, two old friends, old partners trying to clean up the streets. He really hates criminals. At one point, he literally spits in Larry Fishburne’s face. Uh-oh.
  •  Steve Buscemi – plays vlcsnap-2013-04-02-03h08m47s122a guy aptly named TEST TUBE. He’s the guy who tests the drugs during a deal to make sure they’re real, and to see how potent they are. He really only has one scene early on with Fishburne, and then he’s just in the background, occasionally firing a gun or smiling grimly, whichever is appropriate. It’s always nice to see his face in films, but don’t expect a lot of him. Of course, he’s Steve Buscemi, so unless we were talking about BOARDWALK EMPIRE – why would you? Buscemi and Walken go on to c0-appear in: PULP FICTION, THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU’RE DEAD, and ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES, although they never again actually share a scene.

Available to Own: VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray. Just make sure you get the edition that has Abel’s audio commentary on it. He’s a funny guy, and there’s all kinds of interesting stories behind this film’s production.

Similar Films: NEW JACK CITY (1991), SCARFACE (1983), CARLITO’S WAY (1993), AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007), HEAT (1995)

FUN FACT: Walken has mentioned in interviews that he was a bit disappointed in his performance, he thought that he should have shown more conflict in his face!

vlcsnap-2013-04-02-03h57m40s69Walken Content: 90% – If the scene doesn’t have Walken in it, chances are they’re either talking about him, or killing someone to make him happy. He has all kinds of great lines throughout this. He’s a lover AND a fighter. And like in most Abel Ferrara films, he’s also an amateur-philosopher of sorts, ruminating on ethics, God, free will vs. destiny, etc.

vlcsnap-2013-04-02-03h25m34s243Walken Quote: There are many to choose from, but I went with his more popular “I want in”-speech. It’s usually mentioned when discussing Walken’s bad-ass speeches, so it’s only right. Some context? Walken and his crew are paying a visit to a guy that’s been running things since Walken got incarcerated. That guy doesn’t want to let go. He’s a big Italian jerk with a cigar clenched between his jaws, and a gravelly voice that spits insults. He’s always playing cards, so Walken first beats him at a hand of Blackjack and says:

“From here on nothing goes down unless I’m involved. No black jack, no dope-deals, no nothing. A nickelbag gets sold in the park, I want in. You guys got fat while everybody shtarved on the street. Its my turn.”

– Frank White (Walken)

vlcsnap-2013-04-02-03h00m01s122Should You Watch This? Yes. Even beyond the Walken-factor, this film has terrific cinematography, solid performances all around, and it has some interesting points to make about the drug-war, the ethics of those in power, and crime in general.

KING OF NEW YORK is very much a product of the Eighties. The music, the fashion, the technology, and overall, the tone of the film. It’s very dated, but you get used to that.

This is a film about how power moves from one vlcsnap-2013-04-02-03h07m29s110person to another, quickly and often violently. It glorifies drug-use, casual sex, and those charmingly faux-witty one-liners tough-guys say just before killing someone.

One note of caution, though: despite having many of the hallmarks of one, this is not a “party-film”. Some movies have an energy and a pace that can entertain a full room of rowdy spectators demanding blood; this is not that movie. The killing, the action, really, is couched within a quiet, contemplative story. In fact, nobody says anything for like 20 minutes in the beginning! I know, it’s weird, but go with it.

vlcsnap-2013-04-02-03h20m44s172It has a pace all its own, as all Ferrara-films do, but KING OF NEW YORK in particular is worth paying attention to. Strip away the false-bravado of the tough-guys, and the nudity-for-nudity’s-sake. Take away the trash-talking rap soundtrack, and the oh-s0-’80s fashion statements. Ignore all that surface stuff (if you can) and you still have a strong, complex character that is revealed through the decisions he makes, and the things he does. He may be a monster, but he is not without his own sympathies. This is Robin Hood, by way of  SCARFACE. Or perhaps it’s the other way around.

Doesn’t matter. Watch this film. Note the excellent cinematography, the effortlessly efficient characterization, and the badasses trying to out-badass the baddest of them all.

vlcsnap-2013-04-02-04h03m15s84All bow to the KING OF NEW YORK.

7 comments on “King of New York (1990)

  1. The next film will be Paul Schrader’s THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS. A dark and twisted tale of a somewhat unhappy but attractive British couple on vacation in Italy who are hesitantly but inexorably drawn into the clutches of Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren, a mysterious and coercive couple with good wine and bad intentions. Ooooh! It’s a good one. Dark and sexy and dangerous…

  2. jordanandeddie
    August 18, 2013

    Absolutely fantastic film with an, as you say, wonderful Walken performance. Recently re-discovered it on Blu-ray and can’t understand why its not mentioned with the best crime films of the 90’s.

  3. Something Something (todd)
    August 18, 2013

    I know, right? It’s on my short list, definitely. The problem, I think, is that it alienated audiences during its initial theatrical release, and couldn’t recover from it soon enough. Nowadays it has a largish cult following, but there is so much competition that it gets lost in the noise. Best ’90s Crime film? There are hundreds to choose from! Hmm. Come to think of it, what IS my short list? Actually, what’s yours? Best ’90s crime film aaaand go!

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