Review: Lee’s ‘City’ is a layered sucker treat

“Sucker Free City” (2004) was originally intended to be picked up as a series on Showtime, but was dropped due to complications with funding and personnel. But don’t let that fool you! Director Spike Lee’s (“25th Hour,” “Do the Right Thing”) painfully truthful cinematography is some of his best work, denouncing the cinema’s happy-go-lucky, tourist-lunching, trolley-dinging San Francisco we’re oh-so used to, and providing us with a raw and palpable inspection of San Francisco’s heart – the streets.

Written by SF native Alex Tse (co-writer of the upcoming Watchmen, 2009), the story intertwines the lives of three main players. K-Luv (Anthony Mackie) is a member of the V-Dub Mafia, a black gang operating out of the neglected Hunter’s Point. His character has a poignant depth and consciousness that makes him stand out from the rest.

Lincoln is an up and coming member of the Chinese mafia, whose passion and verve are powerfully contradictory to the Asian stereotypes the media is poisoned with.

Nick is a white kid from the Mission District whose family is forced into V-Dub territory due to the dot-com gentrification. His white-collar crimes are a stark contrast to the violence of the gang-affiliated protagonists. When these characters run into each other, there is inevitably conflict, as they each fight to protect what they believe is inherently theirs.

In its feature-length run time, Tse establishes full and complicated characters and behaviors that, in their depressing nature, make a whole lot of sense. The content and ethical perplexities that usually embody Spike Lee’s films are indeed similar, but the film does not contain the same sort of in your face messages Spike Lee is notorious for.

The subplots are nuanced and engaging, leaving you unsatisfied when the film is left unresolved. Although it finishes without resolution, (it was meant to be the first of many installments) that fact adds to the movie’s charm. It would be contradictory to the nature of the story and reality to conclude the inconclusive: these issues and tensions of race, demographics and territory aren’t going anywhere.

The Latino presence, as well as the dynamic homeless population, in San Francisco are largely ignored in the pilot, but I have no doubt that they would have found adequate representation in the subsequent series. In essence, this picture’s biggest fault is that there isn’t more of it.

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Review: Lee’s ‘City’ is a layered sucker treat