Johnny English Reborn
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Controversial 1980s film about Los Angeles gang life. Robert Duvall and Sean Penn star as cops with very different methods of confronting this violent, troubled world
In the soundtrack to Colors, rapper Ice T sings: "We gangs of LA will never die, just multiply." Fifteen years after this film was made, there were an estimated 70,000-200,000 members in roughly 500 gangs - of all colours. Dennis Hopper's striking, controversial film was one of the first to attempt to get under the skin of LA gang culture, inspiring the many 'hood' films that proliferated in the early 1990s.
Hopper's central characters - cops Robert Duvall and Sean Penn - are the traditional mismatched partners who eventually learn more about themselves and become buddies. Conventional aside, in Penn and Duvall we have two of Hollywood's most enigmatic and stylish actors, and the former's hot-headed, youthful aggression contrasts well with Duvall's earnest restraint.
There are several strands to the plot, but the action mainly revolves round the two most well-known gangs of Los Angeles, the Crips and the Bloods, and their drug-dealing activities. The human interest comes from Penn's romance with Maria Conchita Alonso, who plays a hispanic girl who can't quite come to terms with the fact that she's sleeping with the enemy, and also the altogether sadder, more touching story of Frog (Silva), a gang member who's trying to keep his little bro off the streets.
Frog has reconciled himself to life in the gangs and appreciates the sense of belonging and 'protection' it affords him. But he knows that his existence is really no more than an ongoing exercise in survival, and hopes for a little more for his younger sibling. His story sums up the film. It's bleak and offers no solutions but merely seeks to understand. And is all the better for it.
An authentic and moving insight into gang violence that neither moralises nor romanticises. Forget the intervening 15 years of gangsta history when you watch it - this captures LA street society just as drug- and gun-related crime were about to explode.
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