Never Die Alone
When we first meet King David (the rapper DMX) he's arrived back in New York driving his mile-long Stutz Blackhawk and wearing a suit that I would kill for. He's come to settle up with crime boss Moon (Clifton Powell) by paying him back $30,000 to make up for money that he ran off with ten years before. King David carries a little cassette recorder, and he tells the tape pretty much everything he does.
Moon sends two of his men out to pick up the money - Michael (Michael Ealy) and Blue (Antwon Tanner) - and one of them has other plans for King David. At the same time there's a white writer, Paul (David Arquette), sitting in a Harlem bar trying to pick up a story that will get him hired by a black newspaper. How they all relate to each other is the story of the film, which is told largely in flashbacks narrated by King David's tape-recorded voice. It's a fascinating and brutal story, and little by little we see how it relates to both Paul and Michael. In the meantime, though, King David takes us in flashbacks through his career dealing cocaine and heroin in California, and shows us how he uses a white actress (Jennifer Sky) and a black college student (Reagan Gomez-Preston) in a most vicious way. It's a brilliant performance by DMX - sexy, compelling, without conscience but completely honest in the telling.
The script, by James Gibson, is from a novel by the Detroit ghetto writer Donald Goines, who died in a drug deal in 1974 at the age of 37, and it has a dark, period sound and structure, as though it belonged in the 1930s; though the film is set in the present it comes to us as a pulp experience. Director Ernest R. Dickerson, who was Spike Lee's cinematographer on "Do the Right Thing" and "Malcolm X," has done almost everything right in "Never Die Alone." There are moments when the film teeters toward the mushy and sentimental, but it quickly pulls back every time. It's a brilliant, balls-out job and is likely to go on my list as one of the best films of the year.