Monday, April 2, 2012
100 Movies - No. 93: The Warriors
Action, Crime, Thriller, 92 minutes
Directed by Walter Hill
Starring Michael Beck, James Remar, David Patrick Kelly and Deborah Van Valkenburgh
Sometimes I see a movie which I shouldn't like, and I end up loving it. The Warriors is a story about nine gang members who are struggling to reach their home turf. There's hardly any dialogue and the actors are largely unknown. There are fight scenes and other violent elements present which normally wouldn't appeal. But, for a variety of reasons, The Warriors is something that I watch once or twice a year.
The movie is 33 years old so I am not going to avoid spoilers. If you want to see the movie without knowing what happens, please stop reading now.
The story is supposedly based on events in 401 BC when the Persian army was cut off on all sides and trying to get home. The Warriors is set in New York and begins with a meeting of rival gangs. The Gramercy Riffs are the most organized gang and they arrange a truce. Approximately 100 gangs are invited to send nine unarmed members to represent them at a speech given by Riffs' leader Cyrus.
Cyrus delivers a rousing speech. He points out there there are at least 60,000 gang members on the streets and only 20,000 cops. Why can't the gangs stop fighting each other over a few feet of turf when they can have it all? His speech is convincing, but the dream ends when Luther (David Patrick Kelly), a member of The Rogues, shoots and kills Cyrus. He then points at the Warriors' leader, Cleon, and accuses him of shooting Cyrus.
The result is absolute chaos. Police intervene to break up the gathering and The Riffs make it known that they want The Warriors captured dead or alive. Cleon is engulfed immediately and is killed.
So we are left with eight people who are stranded 27 miles from their Coney Island home. They are unarmed and unfamiliar with the area. What they don't realize is that they are being hunted by the cops and by every other gang because they have been framed by Luther. The Warriors worry about whether the truce will hold, but they don't appreciate just how much trouble they are in.
The story takes place over the course of just a few hours and so most of the action happens at night. We get a glimpse of how the group thinks when Swan (Beck) takes over as the leader. He's initially challenged by Ajax (Remar), but Ajax quickly backs down when the others support Swan.
We're shown a variety of encounters with rival gangs as the eight Warriors try to make their way home. Some encounters merely involve a lot of running and our heroes escape on foot, but other scenes involve battles. Each gang has its own distinctive image and colors.
An early encounter shows The Warriors negotiating passage through territory controlled by The Orphans, who were too insignificant to be asked to the meeting with Cyrus. It appears as though they will be allowed to cross The Orphans' territory until a woman, Mercy (Van Valkenburgh), speaks up and demands that they give up their colors. The result is a brief clash ending with The Warriors making it through. Mercy decides to join them.
I found myself wondering whether the whole hunt could have been avoided if The Warriors had just removed their colors and taken the train home, but that wouldn't have been good entertainment. After all, the eagles didn't fly Frodo directly to Mount Doom. We wouldn't have had a story.
The Warriors is the tale of a journey. The setting and the progress of the characters is more important than the history of anyone involved. Because we see everything from the viewpoint of one gang, we root for them. They may be rapists, thieves or murderers, but we care about what happens to them because they have been wronged.
If you ask people to name the most memorable rival gang, the most popular answer would probably be The Baseball Furies. They wear baseball uniforms and metallic face paint and their weapon of choice is a baseball bat. They are involved in perhaps the best fight scene in the movie. The action is clearly choreographed and isn't particularly violent or hard to watch. In the Ultimate Director's Cut, comic book images are used to separate one scene from another. This is a movie about style rather than absolute realism.
The early death of Cleon makes us doubt whether all of the remaining members will make it home and not all of them do. One of the biggest dangers is represented by The Rogues, who do not want to see The Warriors captured alive in case they reveal who was really responsible for the death of Cyrus. David Patrick Kelly gives a memorable performance as Luther.
In a chilling sequence, Luther uses three beer bottles to strike fear into The Warriors when The Rogues finally catch up with them. Kelly apparently improvised the scene on the spot when director Walter Hill told him that the scene required something more than was in the script.
The overall mood of the movie is helped by the score, the lighting and the use of the camera.
Barry De Vorzon used synthesizer's during some of the fight scenes and throughout most of the journey. Instead of sounding dated, it still sounds eerie and atmospheric.
After depicting a New York summer shower, the remainder of the outdoor scenes were shot on wet streets and pavements. This enabled the lights to reflect off the wet ground and added to the unique feel of the movie. A long sequence in Central Park had to be shot in the dark, so portable lights were clipped to the trees to provide lighting. You can easily see them if you look.
The character of Mercy shows up in a coat at one point and says that she stole it to avoid being noticed by the police who were looking for a woman in a pink shirt. The truth is that she had broken her wrist and Hill had to find a way to hide her cast in the remaining scenes.
It does strike me as odd that we never see any other gang members when The Warriors make it back to Coney Island. Weren't there supposed to be 120 of them? I guess it wouldn't have added anything to the story.
The characters look as if they can take care of themselves in a fight. The actors were required to do a few physical scenes and spent much of the movie running.
The Warriors is a timeless movie. The choice to shoot it at night was inspired and the use of humor diffused some of the tension caused by the more violent scenes. The whole blend adds up to a story which almost defies explanation, but I'm sure that I will always like it.
If you like The Warriors:
The Warriors is all about the look and feel of the movie as the characters make their way home. Escape From New York has a similar feel, although it's about one man trying to escape rather than a gang. Both films have elements of humor and don't take themselves entirely seriously.
Return to index of 100 movies to see before you die.
Return to index of every review on the site.