The gangster movie has been a staple in film since, well, the time of gangsters. Thugs and mob bosses, godfathers and goombahs, the stereotypes are always brought together mixing fact and fiction to tell a compelling story. For the most part these films have chosen to surround themselves with Italian based gangsters with the mafia being an easy target. But on occasion other stories are told and are quite satisfying such as HOODLUM. The true story of Bumpy Johnson (Laurence Fishburne), a young black numbers runner in Harlem who did his time and returns in the employ of Stephanie "The Queen" St. Clair (Cicely Tyson). When she is sentenced to jail for racketeering she leaves Bumpy in charge with the promise of no bloodshed. Bumpy continues to build the empire of St. Clair with himself at the top of the heap. Along the way he establishes a deal with the then de facto mob boss Lucky Luciano (Andy Garcia). In return for a small tribute Bumpy is allowed to run the numbers and other criminal enterprises in Harlem. This sets him up as a hero of the neighborhood, someone who can work with the mob and retain his own heritage. But things don't go as planned and Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth) makes the decision to move into Bumpy's territory in spite of the truce. Going against Luciano doesn't help his cause though. Eventually Bumpy and Dutch will but heads and blood will flow in spite of past promises made. At stake will be the control of crime in Harlem. While it claims to be a complete fictional account of events the film is based in some historical reality. There really was a Bumpy Johnson and he was the crime lord of Harlem. The same holds true for both Luciano and Schultz. What has been slightly altered is the storytelling that takes place around these names and the actual events that involved them. Well made, well shot, well acted and well directed. The film did well enough at the box office but wasn't a mega-hit which it should have been. Fishburne was in the midst of his most popular status, 4 years out from WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT and 2 years ahead of THE MATRIX. He turns in a great performance here with a seething anger that builds rather than an off the handle scream fest. Actor turned director Bill Duke does a fantastic job and why he wasn't presented with higher priced and more supported projects is anyone's guess. In the end the question is does the movie entertain and the answer is yes. The story is interesting and all things combined to tell it make it one worth taking a look at. It's even more interesting when you realize that the character of Bumpy Johnson has been in more movies than this one. Fishburne himself played a character based on him in THE COTTON CLUB and Denzel Washington's film American GANGSTER had a character based on Bumpy that advises him. Knowing that makes this movie one to go back and check out again from a new perspective.
Crime / Drama
Crime / Drama
Black gangsters in 1930 Harlem fights Dutch Schultz who is trying to horn in on their numbers racket.
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April 8, 2019