Film / King of New York

Roy Bishop: "Did you really think you were going to get away with killing all these people?"
Frank White: "I spent half my life in prison. I never got away with anything. And I never killed anybody who didn't deserve it."

A 1990 gangster film, directed by the legendary Abel Ferrara. The film stars Christopher Walken, "Larry" Fishburne and Victor Argo, and features (in the first major screen roles for each) David Caruso and Wesley Snipes. Though initially panned by critics for its enthusiastic use of violent and sexual images and its "glorification" of criminal activity, the film carved out a niche audience among fans of gangster movies and rap, and is today considered a classic example of 1990s crime cinema.

The story concerns Frank White (Walken), a powerful drug lord who is released from prison after serving a lengthy stretch, and reunited with his old gang, led by streetwise goon Jimmy Jump (Fishburne). Frank claims to have reformed and hobnobs with the cream of New York society to prove it, but continues to engage in his criminal pursuits. He has a dream: to unite the whole New York underworld in one multi-racial organization, with himself at the head, and use some of the profits to build hospitals for the poor and the needy. But there are a few roadblocks, like racist Mafia boss Arty Clay (Frank Gio) and greedy Triad gangster Larry Wong (Joey Chin), who will need to be cleared away first.

Meanwhile, the cops, led by the low-key Roy Bishop (Argo), do their best to bring Frank back in on any charge that will stick, but are stymied at every turn by his fleet of high-priced lawyers. Finally, two of Bishop's subordinates, Dennis Gilley (Caruso) and Thomas Flanigan (Snipes), decide to take the law into their own hands, and get Frank by any means necessary...

Provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: Frank mocks this trope while talking to Bishop, pointing out that drug consumption went up while he was in jail.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Every woman given more than two cumulative minutes of screen time will get in Frank's pants. Or Jimmy's pants. Or both.
  • Amoral Attorney: Played straight with Frank's attorney Abe. Averted with his other attorney Jennifer, who only represents him because she's in love with him.
  • Arbitrarily Large Bank Account: Frank apparently saved up quite a bit before going to jail. He rides around in a limousine, stays at the Plaza, wears fancy suits, and doesn't even blink before ordering his lawyers to put up $2 million in bail for Jimmy and Blood. This, despite the fact that he's been off the streets for eight years.
  • As Himself: Columnist Pete Hamill and singer Freddie Jackson.
  • Badass Bookworm: Test Tube, who is the crew's resident chemist and wields a mean pistol.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: The whole NYPD. The best of the lot is Bishop, and even he goes along with kidnapping Frank as a form of intimidation.
  • Better Living Through Evil: Three thugs mug Frank on the subway. After scaring them with his pistol, he gives them a wad of cash and offers them all jobs. Two of them are later seen among his Mooks.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Frank is a ruthless drug dealer and cold-blooded murderer who is working towards a noble end and genuinely trying to change. The police are correct when they say its obscene how Frank can get away with murder but are willing to break those same laws to catch him. The victims of Frank's reign are despicable individuals though, who engaged in vile activities such as child prostitution and scamming illegal immigrants.
  • Bodyguard Crush: In the opening scenes, it is very heavily implied that the first thing Frank did after getting back to New York was to have a threesome with Melanie and Raye.
  • Boom, Headshot: One each for Gilley and Jimmy.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Frank's men kill a Colombian drug dealer for his in the opening sequence. Also subverted during the same sequence, when another Colombian thinks he's getting one, but opens it to find it full of tampons.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Flanigan's doesn't do him much good.
  • Bullets Do Not Work That Way: The main character ambushes David Caruso's Dirty Cop as he's starting his car outside a funeral. A shotgun blast graphically blows the victim's entire head off, splattering the windshield and the passenger side window with gore. Neither windshield nor window shatters, although the windshield is somewhat justified (Walken shot from his car window and through Caruso's lowered window, so one can assume that the pellets didn't spread enough or whatever).
  • Bullying a Dragon: Arty Clay insults Frank to his face, then threatens his life, despite being unarmed and all his men being covered by Frank's goons. Maybe he thought being The Don made him bulletproof.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Quite a few, especially from Jimmy and Gilley.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Frank and company live it up.
  • Crapsack World: The police are powerless to stop drug dealers who in turn have to spend their days dodging bullets, evil men cannot be reasoned with, only destroyed, anyone who believes in a cause or moral crusade will die for their idealism, redemption is impossible for anyone who strives for it and in a world of evil, crooked but well-meaning cops and cold-blooded philanthropists are the best anyone can hope for. And for Ferrara, this is upbeat.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Jimmy shoots and mortally wounds Flanigan, so Gilley kills Jimmy. Frank gets back at him by blowing his head off with a shotgun at Flanigan's funeral.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: The first three-quarters or so of the movie is made of this. Though when the comedown hits, it hits hard.
  • Dead Guy on Display: After Larry Wong tells Frank and Jimmy where his barrels of heroin are hidden, they kill him and string him upside down in the storage room.
  • Disconnected by Death: One of the Colombian drug dealers killed in the opening sequence is done in while placing a call from a phone booth.
  • The Don: Arty Clay is a Deconstruction, being a fairly accurate representation of what Mafia gangsters from Michael Corleone's generation were really like.
  • Downer Ending: Practically everyone is killed, and Frank's hope's of redemption go unfulfilled.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: Frank, Test Tube and Melanie are white. The rest of the gang is black. This is one of the things that Arty Clay holds against Frank.
  • Evil Is Hammy: "Larry" Fishburne is still picking the scenery out of his teeth.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Called on his murderous ways by Bishop, Frank excuses himself by claiming that all his victims were worse than he is, engaging in human trafficking, child prostitution and the like.
  • Falsely Reformed Villain: After his release, Frank makes every effort to rebuild his image, attending swanky plays and ritzy restaurants, hobnobbing with politicians and celebrities, raising money for hospitals and jokingly announcing that his new life goal is to be Mayor. All while making eight-figure heroin deals and killing rival gangsters left and right.
  • Fingertip Drug Analysis: Jimmy lectures Test Tube that the proper way to test cocaine for purity is to snort it. Later, Lance takes a lick out of one of Larry Wong's barrels of heroin to see if it's the real deal.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Gilley and Flanigan though we're really stretching the term Good.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Frank is a drug dealer who builds hospitals for poor people. His opponents are cops who decide to get him even if it means murdering a whole bunch of people in cold blood.
  • Guns Akimbo: Jimmy's favored battle stance.
  • Hookers and Blow: The favored method of recreation for Frank and his men.
  • I Control My Minions Through...: Kindness and money. All of Frank's goons seem to love him. Except Dalesio.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Gilley and Flanigan often tries to justify their actions this way.
  • It's All About Me: Gilley and Flanigan care more about getting Frank arrested than following the rules.
  • Jerkass: Gilley and Flanigan, both of them being the nastiest cops, ever. Jimmy is pretty personally unpleasant to anyone outside the gang.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Gilley and Flanigan go from roughing suspects up a little to putting on balaclavas and hunting them down in a remarkably short period of time.
  • Mob War: A very brief one, between Frank and Larry Wong.
  • Off on a Technicality: Why Gilley and Flanigan decide to take the law into their own hands, because they're afraid they can't make a legal case against Frank.
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: Frank and company throw one right before it all goes to hell.
  • Pet the Dog: Frank's hospital project. Jimmy hands out money to an impoverished woman and her grandchildren at a restaurant, right before getting busted for a double homicide.
  • Police Brutality: Consistently applied by Gilley and Flanigan.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Arty Clay, who drops three or four racial slurs against blacks in less than five total minutes of screen time.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Frank tries to talk it out with Larry Wong, suggesting that they should become partners in drug distribution. He is rebuffed.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Jimmy and Blood each get one in the opening sequence:
    King Tito: [looking at a briefcase full of tampons] What the fuck is this?
    Jimmy: They're for the bullet holes, puta!
    • Seconds later...
    Blood: [crashing through a hotel room door] ROOM SERVICE, MOTHERFUCKERS!
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Frank. This, more than anything else, is what Gilley and Flanigan hate about him.
  • Villainy Discretion Shot: Rampant. We see Frank kill a lot of gangsters, but we never see the effects of his drug dealing on the people of Harlem.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Bishop is the only one who have the guts to call out Gilley and Flanigan for their extreme actions.
  • White Shirt of Death: Both Frank and Bishop make the mistake of wearing one for the last twenty minutes.
  • Wicked Cultured: Subverted. Jennifer drags Frank to an avant-garde play, with which he is clearly bored out of his mind.
  • Workaholic: Bishop. While the other cops drink, laugh and dance at a wedding reception, he ducks out so he can go home, sit in front of his computer and pore over Frank's file.
  • World of Ham: Victor Argo seems to be the only one who didn't get the memo.