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.
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.
Director: 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.
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.
Walken 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:
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!
Walken 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.
Walken 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)
Should 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 person 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.
It 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.