Anthony's Film Review
Menace II Society (1993)
Menace II Society is a crime film that is undeniably raw, gritty, and intense...
There are plenty of movies that are classified as "hood films," depicting the violent lifestyles of African-Americans in urban ghettos and all the things that come with it, including gangs, street crime, drugs, prostitution, poverty, racial tensions with police, and hip-hop music. One of the best hood films, if not the best, is the 1993 drama Menace II Society, directed by Albert and Allen Hughes, the twin-brother duo publicly known as the Hughes Brothers. It is worth noting that they were just 20 years old when they made this movie, because it looks so professionally done that it's easy to assume that it's the work of a veteran filmmaker, not a rookie filmmaker who is already very talented from the start. It is also worth noting that this film features very strong violence and tons of profane language, so it's definitely not for the faint of heart.
The tone for the entire movie is firmly set by its first scene. Two young African-American teenage boys named Caine and O-Dog, played respectively by Tyrin Turner and Larenz Tate, enter a liquor store run by a Korean man and woman, who immediately become suspicious of these black youths. Caine and O-Dog take out bottles of beer from a freezer and start drinking before actually paying for them. The monetary exchange at the cashier goes all right for the most part, but the Korean man at the counter makes a comment out of sympathy that ends up enraging O-Dog, to the point where the angered teen pulls out a gun and shoots the Korean man to death before doing the same to the Korean woman in a back room. Caine follows O-Dog out of the store, a horrified and unwilling accomplice to murder and armed robbery.
The plot of Menace II Society is nothing more than a series of moments in life. That's not to say that it's a mundane story. Far from it. Given that the kind of life we're talking about is the kind that many African-Americans in poor ghettos are unfortunately subject to, the story always has something interesting going on. There are scenes depicting violent crimes, like carjackings and murders, along with those that are less violent but still unsettling, like drug deals and tense encounters with police. Plus, there are quieter moments that involve visiting family, hanging out with friends, and doing a little self-reflection. In the ghetto, anything can happen at any time. You might have moments of peace, or you might witness situations where people provoked by any conflict, no matter how mild, will shoot each other without hesitation.
The characters are also wonderfully developed. Caine is a guy who is deep in the criminal life, though he might have a chance to leave it all behind for good, given the occasional positive words of advice that come his way. In contrast, O-Dog is a youth who is so heartless that he enjoys, with no remorse, watching security camera footage of himself killing the Korean man in the liquor store. There are other characters who live the same lifestyle, including Sharif who is, interestingly enough, a gangbanger as well as a Muslim (a role that Tupac Shakur turned down because he didn't see the two sides of the character as compatible). Then there are characters who provide the light in this dark world. They include Caine's grandfather who preaches the Bible, a young woman played by Jada Pinkett who watches over her five-year-old son very carefully, and a teacher who gives Caine a straightforward warning ("Being a black man in America isn't easy. The hunt is on, and you're the prey.").
The pleasure of watching Menace II Society comes from two things. One, observing and immersing oneself in the bleakness of African-American ghettos, which is portrayed so realistically here that this film could look exactly the same if it were a documentary instead of a fictional drama. Two, following the journey of Caine and discovering what choices he will ultimately make. The big question is whether Caine will stay trapped in a life of crime until he dies or make the wise decision to move away for good and start a better life. The answer to that comes in the film's finale, which is undoubtedly an emotional scene.
Overall, Menace II Society is an unforgettable and triumphant piece of cinematic art. If you can handle its gritty content, then you are in for a real treat: a heartwrenching film in a setting that we don't want to think about, but we should not turn our eyes away from.
For more information about Menace II Society, visit the Internet Movie Database.