Friday, February 19, 2016

The Warriors


  Describing The Warriors to someone does very little justice to the movie, and a big disservice to whoever you're trying to convince to watch it. Merely, telling someone that the movie is about a group of gang members having to make it back to their home turf on Coney Island while being hunted by every other gang in New York does little to sell the colorful and energetic vibe of the movie. Because The Warriors is less of a gritty inner-city gang movie and more of a survival-thriller set in a heightened reality where wild street gangs sport themed motifs, like baseball uniforms (complete with face paint), or roller skates- the list goes on.

   When it comes down to it, The Warriors has a hip, comic book, rock n' roll, flavor to it that is as fun and unexpected today as it was back in 1979. The movie even briefly courted some controversy as it became popular with real gangs during it's theatrical run, prompting all kinds of violence and chaos at screenings. I guess this was kind of inevitable, but the fictional gangs in the movie aren't all too much like real gangs. These guys are larger than life, exaggerated, colorful, organized, and really, really into motifs. This really sets the movie apart from reality, making it seem almost like an urban fantasy flick- and I can't think of any other movie (apart from those directly inspired by it) like it.

    The movie is inspired/based on a book, which is inspired/based on a classic text, called Anabasis by Xenophon. If you read a little bit about it here, you can see how it directly inspires the story of The Warriors. So, the movie ends up being a stylish retelling of a classic adventure story about 10,000 Spartans, stranded deep behind enemy lines having to make their way back to the safety the Black Sea and of its Greek shoreline cities. You can easily see the bones for The Warriors there. Swap the 10,000 Spartans, for 9 of the Warriors, swap Persia for the Bronx and voila: The Warriors. The inspiration for the movie lends it a fable-like quality as if it could be a word-of-mouth, urban legend. "Did you hear about The Warriors?"

    Besides all that, the movie is thoroughly entertaining on the most basic of levels. It's relentless pace and kinetic fight choreography make it a hell of an action movie. Director Walter Hill doesn't stop there though; he punctuates the fights and action sequences with bursts of stylish slow motion, showing the violence to us in hard-hitting, unmistakable detail. On top of that, the movie is set to some great music and a pulsing synth-like score by Barry De Vorzon- who might not be the most recognizable name in movie music, he's still cranked out his fair share of memorable tunes. The Warriors is absolutely among his best. The score reflects the hip and stylish flavor of the movie, but also the merciless tension and danger that permeates the entire thing.

  Another thing I found fascinating about the movie is that it doesn't take a stance on gangs or gang violence. The protagonists are gang members, yet they're not portrayed as evil- in fact, none of the gangs are. They're just people. The real antagonist in the movie is a psychopath who's violent tendencies would exist with or without gang affiliation. The heroes in the movie are just guys pegged for a killing they didn't commit. The movie doesn't say 'gangs are the problem, here's how we fix this' it doesn't say 'gangs are fine, join up now'. It's neutral. It uses the streets of New York and the gangs that run em as tools to tell a story about incredible odds and survival in the face of certain death.

  Even so, I've seen a lot of people who just don't 'get' this movie. Their idea of a gang movie is limited, and they don't seem ready to accept this. But, the people who see this as just a slick and well crafted piece of entertainment love it for the cult classic it is. It's not a perfect movie, but I personally have no issues with it. From the dated 70's slang, to the energetic music and the outlandish costuming, I love it all. The Warriors might not be for everyone, but it sure as hell is for me- and I know more people who love it than not. It's a catchy, hip, stylish, and energetic thriller with comic book flavor, visual punch and a hard rock vibe. The real question is... can you dig it?

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