Sugar Hill (1993)
“He wanted power. He wanted revenge. Now he just wants out.”
Sugar Hill (1993)
Director: Leon Ichaso
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Michael Wright, Khandi Alexander
Synopsis: A drug dealer finds it more difficult to retire from the profession than he expected.
Considering how badly Joan of Arc starts – horribly pretentious and flashy direction, symbolic wolves running through a forest, beautiful young girl running through endless fields of flowers and proclaiming that everything is wonderful – I’m surprised by how much I eventually came to enjoy this film (although it is by no means a great movie).
That Joan’s sister was raped after being pinned to a door by the sword found by her little sister is questionable to say the least. The scene seems unnecessary, and a poor device to cast doubt on whether the voices she heard were from God, or simply a mental state caused by the horror she witnessed as an over-zealously religious child.
There’s nothing particularly bad about Leon Ichaso’s crime dram Sugar Hill – in fact there’s much about it that is very good – but it’s a story that’s been done to death ever since the Warner gangster movies of the 30’s: Kingpin drug lord meets nice girl and decides to go straight but finds it harder than he imagined.
Setting itself up early on as a more character-driven flick than the average gangster movie, Sugar Hill fails to deliver by allowing it’s characters to be shackled by the constraints of the plot/genre, lacking the nerve (or insight) necessary to depart from the well-trodden path.
That Ichaso manages to cull anything of worth from such a hackneyed plot is creditable indeed. Wesley Snipes is believable as the sombre, intelligent Roemello, the more-together of a sibling partnership – presumably because, as a child, his older brother was forced by his mother to tighten the belt on her arm as she injected herself with what proves to be a fatal dose of heroin. This is shown in a harrowing and highly effective prologue. Unfortunately, the reasons for her sons eventually growing to trade in the drug that killed her and destroyed their father is never explained.
Michael Wright does well as Snipes older, but weaker, brother, treading the tenuous line between acceptable emoting and overacting that a lesser actor may have failed to negotiate convincingly. Also outstanding is Clarence Williams (52 Pick-Up) as their drug-addicted father.
One really irritating aspect of this movie for me is Ichaso’s insistence on bathing every scene in Snipe’s father’s run-down apartment with a golden hue – a common practice these days – a device that adds nothing but a sense of unreality to what is supposed to be a slum tenement.
One telling observation: Viewed in 2002, the absence of mobile phones in this movie already makes it look dated.
(Reviewed 23rd February 2002)