Monday, February 04, 2008

Monday Movie Review: The Warriors

The Warriors (1979) 7/10
At a meeting of all New York gangs, the respected organizer is murdered and The Warriors wrongfully accused. Now, unarmed, they've got to get from the Bronx to their home turf in Coney Island—the entire length of the city—with every gang in New York after them.

"Warriors...come out and plaaaaay-aay!"

So here's the thing. There's this famously obscure movie made in 1979 about New York gangs, kind of cult/sleeper. And I thought I'd seen it until a friend of mine started using the above quote as a sig line, and said it was from The Warriors. I didn't know that line.

Turned out I'd seen The Wanderers. I hate when that happens.

So I finally caught up with The Warriors. It's a dark vision of a nightmare New York in which the gangs wander the streets in scary clown makeup, bright colors from costume shops made dark by the accompanying weapons and the total incongruity. The "Baseball Furies" wear Yankee pinstripes and full-face makeup and carry baseball bats. The "Punks" wear overalls and rollerskates. The Warriors themselves are relatively conservative in decorated leather vests, but the overall effect is still of swatches of terrifying color, painted like graffiti across city life.

The acting here runs the gamut from very bad to a little bit bad, and some of the events are incredibly stupid. It's a little difficult to remember that, for the majority of the movie, most of The Warriors don't realize that there's a coordinated call out to go after them, so that they wander blankly into traps.

But it doesn't matter. There's a raw energy that drives the film forward, and a sense of unreality to the location shooting. New York, filmed in a particular way, and particularly at this period of time, can look like a dystopic science fiction set, like it really is Beneath the Planet of the Apes in the cavernous subways. The Warriors captures that heightened sensibility, the way raw reality feels dreamlike.

It's not surprising to learn that The Warriors is based on an ancient Greek tale. It works as a mythical journey, bringing the young gang members face to face with themselves as they travel the long (over 32 miles) way on foot and by subway. Along the way they will be challenged, humiliated, tempted, and pursued.

For new readers, here's a reminder about how I use my rating scale:
10 or 9: A must-see. I judge a film for what it is, so a great heist movie can get a 10 for being great, even if it isn't a movie of Transcendent Importance.
8 or 7: See it, but flawed.
6 or 5: Maybe see it if it appeals to you. Definitely flawed or very inconsistent.
4 or 3: Don't see it.
2 or 1: You'll hate yourself if you see it. There may be sickness.

(Warriors...come out and crossssssss-post!)