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  Menace II Society Ignore The Escape Routes
Year: 1993
Director: Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
Stars: Tyrin Turner, Jada Pinkett Smith, Larenz Tate, Glenn Plummer, Arnold Johnson, Marilyn Coleman, MC Eiht, Vonte Sweet, Saafir, Ryan Williams, Cynthia Calhoun, Khandi Alexander, Clifton Powell, Samuel L. Jackson, Charles S. Dutton, Bill Duke
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Caine (Tyrin Turner) has a story to tell, and it is the story of his life. He remembers being a little boy of five, when his father was a violent drug dealer and his mother was an addict - they had only been married because his father had gotten his mother pregnant - and the kid witnessed his father shooting a fellow poker player dead over an argument about money. Sadly, this was par for the course for Caine's childhood, and he eventually went to live with his Godfearing grandparents after his mother died, and now it is time for him to graduate from high school. But what kind of existence will he have now, set adrift in the world of Los Angeles?

Menace II Society does not ask you to feel sorry for its characters, but you may feel some regret for knowing that the lives it portrayed were all too typical of many African Americans, and indeed many across the globe where drugs had become the main driving force for setting goals to get by. Caine himself has turned dealer, like his father, who in a number of guest star roles here was played by Samuel L. Jackson in a one-scene wonder, but this was really a film consisting of one-scene wonders: it did not have much in the way of narrative flow, but its way with an explosive setpiece was highly impressive when you were aware of the background.

The Hughes Brothers were the twins behind getting this on the screen, from a script by Tyger Williams, all the more remarkable that they had never directed a movie before but had helmed a number of music videos, including ones for hip-hop superstar 2Pac, who was to star in this before be attacked them while filming a video and that was the end of that. Actually, his presence here could have overbalanced this into a star vehicle for the rapper, which would not have suited it, even romanticising the material since he was murdered in unexplained circumstances, so it was better that the relatively unknown Turner took the lead and kept things on an even keel.

Turner forged a steady career since, but has never become a breakout star for whatever reason, yet like everyone here he was very effective, as if the cast were relishing the chance to play bad boys with often no redeeming features. Jada Pinkett Smith, in contrast, was the voice of reason as Ronnie, seeking to bring up her little boy and hoping she can allow him to avoid the pitfalls young black men were risking every day; Caine tries to help her, but may be doing more harm than good as he succumbs to the allure of exercising the power of violence. But it was Larenz Tate as the impulsively murderous teen O-Dog who summed up the go nowhere, nothing matters but the sweet escape of death attitude throughout. Comparisons were made to Boyz N The Hood when this was released, but this was a far harder work, not permitting its characters even a tiny sliver of hope when it is well aware for most of them, a short life awaits.

Or if not a short life, then one that will be blighted by family and friends dying young, and the curse of drugs, whether using or selling or both, will rule their society and prevent anyone from getting ahead. The Hughes were a mere twenty-one years old when they made this, and their inexperience shows in equally good and bad ways: every scene seems to have been designed with the same impact in mind, but on the other hand those scenes are undeniably powerful since despite their realistic qualities, there is a stylised aspect to them that renders them cinematic and evidence of the directors' raw talent. The guest stars were there to give this a boost: Jackson the epitome of evil and how a bad father figure can ruin a child's future, Bill Duke as a detective about as menacing as it was possible to get, Charles S. Dutton as the schoolteacher with words of wisdom which fall on predictably deaf ears. There was no future for these young men, and that stark insistence on not giving anyone a way out was more memorable than many a pat morality tale. Music by Quincy Jones III.

[The Criterion Collection release this on Blu-ray with these many special features:

New 4K digital restoration of the directors' cut of the film, supervised by director of photography Lisa Rinzler and codirector Albert Hughes, with 7.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
In the 4K UHD edition: One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and one Blu-ray with the film and special features
Original 2.0 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio
Two audio commentaries from 1993 featuring directors Albert and Allen Hughes
New selected-screen commentary featuring Rinzler
Gangsta Vision, a 2009 featurette on the making of the film
New conversation among Albert Hughes, screenwriter Tyger Williams, and film critic Elvis Mitchell
New conversation among Allen Hughes, actor and filmmaker Bill Duke, and Mitchell
Interview from 1993 with the directors
Music video from 1991 for 2Pac's Brenda's Got a Baby, directed by the Hughes brothers
Deleted scenes
Film-to-storyboard comparison
Trailer
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: An essay by film critic Craig D. Lindsey.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Albert Hughes  (1972 - )

American director of socially conscious thrillers, usually with his twin brother Allen. Menace II Society and Dead Presidents were violent urban crime stories, but with From Hell they transported their style to Victorian England for a Jack the Ripper tale. They both returned after too long away in 2010 with religious sci-fi The Book of Eli and Albert set out on his own in 2018 with prehistoric doggy story Alpha.

Allen Hughes  (1972 - )

American director of socially conscious thrillers, usually with his twin brother Albert. Menace II Society and Dead Presidents were violent urban crime stories, but with From Hell they transported their style to Victorian England for a Jack the Ripper tale. They both returned after too long away in 2010 with religious sci-fi The Book of Eli, but went their separate ways thereafter.

 
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