This movie’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness — it wants to be more than the usual drug dealer shoot-em-up. It deserves some credit for its ambitions. But those ambitions tip it over into pretentious melodrama that only emphasizes how far short of its aspirations it falls.
Rap star DMX plays “King” David, a drug dealer who has come home to New York to make his peace with his former boss, Moon (Clifton Powell). David took Moon’s drugs to California and used it to start his own very successful drug distribution business. He offers to pay Moon whatever he asks to make up for it. Moon’s men come to collect the money but emotions get out of hand and David is mortally wounded.
Paul (David Arquette), sees David lying in the street and drives him to the hospital. David asks Paul to find his son and tell him that “his old man was a warrior.” leaves Paul his car. In the car, Paul finds tapes hidden in a hollowed-out Bible. David, knowing that he was on a collision course with a violent end, found that telling the story of his life on tape “helps ease the pain. It’s all I have left.”
Paul, a writer who has been searching for a way to tell the story of the streets, has found it. He is fascinated with David’s “nobility.” As Paul listens to the tapes, we see King David’s arrival in Los Angeles with the drugs he stole from Moon, and we watch him use that stash to make connections with customers and suppliers to build a business. His first connection is a small-time starlet (her role is “just cable, and it’s only recurring), who becomes his girlfriend and introduces him to other buyers with access to a lot of money. When it is time for him to buy more cocaine and heroin, he insists on the very best quality. David meets a woman he really cares for because she is “beautiful, intelligent, and uncorrupted.” Then he corrupts and destroys her, because caring for her made him feel weak. Abusing her made him feel “loved and appreciated.”
DMX gives David power and dignity. But the character is already so corrupt and empty that it is impossible to find the “nobility” Paul sees in him. David does not learn or grow or change for the better or worse, and so there is no sense of journey to move the story forward. Overly melodramatic flourishes and overly symbolic images also separate us from the characters. A coffin is pushed into the flames of a crematorium as a car drives into a tunnel. A writer banging on a typewriter instead of a laptop and a slinky nightclub chanteuse recall the gangster movies of the 1930’s. And a relationship revealed at a critical moment is intended to bring everything full circle, but just feels manipulative.
Parents should know that this movie is about people who are engaged in crime and corruption. It has constant and extreme violence, including many graphic murders. The main characters are drug dealers, and the movie includes drug use (heroin and cocaine) and overdoses, including a mother whose overdose is discovered by her children. Characters use extremely strong and hostile language, including the n-word, and they treat each other with emotional as well as physical brutality. There are explicit sexual references and situations, including a graphic sex scenes and a threesome involving twins.
Families who see this movie should talk about how the characters decided what was important to them. Who are their role models? Why? What does it mean to say that “we reap what we sow?” Why does David want his son to know that “his father was a warrior?” Was he? Why was Paul so interested in telling that story? Was Paul’s girlfriend right about why he was seeing her? What is the reason for the title? Who in the movie does die alone?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the movies that helped to inspire its characters, including Scarface and The Godfather. They will also appreciate New Jack City and Tupac: Resurrection.