In Spike Lee's Clockers, the viewer is yet again plunged into an impoverished African American community and the troubles that condemn it. This time around the central character is Ronald 'Strike' Dunham (Mekhi Phifer), a twentysomething youth who, when not hanging with his peers, functions as a seller for the drug lord Rodney Little, played with cunning by Delroy Lindo. Things get complicated in the community when a fast food joint employee is gunned down one night and Strike's older brother (Isiah Washington) turns himself in and explains that the act was in self defense. Of the two detectives on the case, one of them (John Turturo) believes the case is closed. The other, played by Harvey Keitel, doesn't believe the self defence plee for a second. For that reason, the two partners head back to the community, with Keitel eyeing Strike as the culprit.
Spike Lee movies are often filled with characters and Clockers is no exception. The key is to handle them all well. Do they all have their place within the story? Are they all necessary? In this department, Lee is mostly successful. The one character that may have be of great importance is Keitel's bickering partner, played by John Tururo. Keitel's determination to make certain that the truth, or at least his version of the truth, sees the light of day was more than enough. There really wasn't a need for a partner that disagrees with him.
The real meat of the story revolves around several characters that live in the 'projects'. Mehki Phifer as Strike plays his part of the convincingly. He's lost to this world of drug dealing and probably will never escape it. Although he doesn't consume crack himself, he willfully aids his boss, Rodney, in selling the product to as many people as possible. He befriends a young lad from the neighborhood and even explains to him how to to get rich quickly, namely, by selling drugs. But he does have a passion: trains. He knows their history, has always wanted to ride in one and even has a spectacular set in his apartment, albeit purchased with drug money. He also suffers from a serious ulcer, which causes him to cough up blood. Although they may not be the most effective tools, these two aspects are just enough to give the viewer the impression that Strike is a human, not some cold hearted drug dealer. He even warns the young boy who has befriended him never to use the drugs he's selling. But of course, warning or not, too much negative influences on the boy eventually lead to a dramatic gesture on his behalf just when Strike's life may be on the line. Strike's many attempts at deceiving Keitel's detective and his deteriorating relationship with Rodney eventually land him in some insurmountable stress and an almost hopeless situation. To add to the misery, his negative influence on the young boy means he is no longer in favor among some of the neighborhoods members, such as a local police officer played wth gutso by the always reliable Keith David. Strike is in way over his head and instead of becoming a wiser, cooler character all of a sudden, as is done in other films, he crumbles under the pressure and can only survive from outside help.
There are some nifty camera shots near the beginning that show the system Strike and his partners use to sell their drug with as much coordination as possible to avoid detection. It's quick and a delight to watch in its efficiency. Spike Lee always succeeds in bringing a distinct visual style to his films. The camera work in his films is always dynamic and enhances the story telling process. Clockers clearly benefits from Lee's visual expertise, be it with regards to tracking shots or cuts or camera angles.
Clockers may not be in the same league as Lee's other works, such as Do The Right Thing, Malcom X and Crooklyn, but it is still one of his most effective and entertaining movies. Anyone who wants to explore the director's repertoire should not overlook this film.