Clockers (1995): Spike Lee’s Film Starring Harvey Keitel

40 Acres and a Mule/FilmWorks

As directed by Spike Lee, Clockers is one of 1995’s most anticipated but ultimately disappointing films.

The movie could have been better and more powerful if directed by Scorsese, who was initially attached to the project but had to give up helming due to other projects, thus only serving as co-producer (with Lee’s vet Jon Kilik).

As co-penned by Lee and Richard Price, based on the latter’s gripping novel, the tale revolves around Strike (newcomer Mekhi Phifer), the hardest-working 24-hour drug dealer (or “clocker”) in New York City. Strike’s industrious nature and ambition attract the attention a local drug kingpin (Delroy Lindo), who offers him an opportunity for advancement, get rid of the competition by becoming a crack dealer.

When a rival dealer turns up dead, Strike finds himself at the center of the investigation for a murder he didn’t commit. Strike’s law-abiding brother shocks everyone by confessing to the murder, but a dedicated white homicide detective (Harvey Keitel), unconvinced that Strike’s brother is the killer, wont; settle for anything but the truth.

Lee pays too much attention to the social context, the urban environment, instead of focusing on the moral dilemmas and compromised identity of his interesting central character, Strike, resulting in a diffuse, intermittently involving crime saga.

“Clocker” represents a missed opportunity in capturing the bite, momentum, and gusto of the novel written by Richrad Price, whose other scenarios include “Mad Dog and Glory” (1993) and the 1995 remake of “Kiss of Death.”

Strangely, crucial details of Keitel’s persona and background are omitted, which turns him into a familiar type rather than individual creation, also hampering his interpretation.

Acting of debutant Phifer is good, and so is that of John Turturro, as Keitel’s NYPD partner, and the rest of the male-driven ensemble, including Keith David, Pee Wee Love, and Isaiah Washington.

Running time: 128 Minutes

“Clockers” is part of Spike Lee DVD collection that also includes “Jungle Fever,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Mo’ Better Blues,” and “Crooklyn.”