The Warriors (1979):
The Plot: In a vaguely “futuristic” New York, bathrobe-clad super-gangster Cyrus (Roger Hill) calls a summit to unite all of the city’s gangs in a war against the NYPD. He gets assassinated, probably because his vision was too beautiful for this world. The Warriors, a gang from Coney Island, get blamed for the killing. After their leader is beaten down by vengeful gangs, it’s up to “war-chief” Swan (Michael Beck) to lead his crew through miles of hostile territory to get back home.
I guess this is kind of a cult movie. If you know movies, or if you’re young and you’ve spent a lot of time on the internet (as I’m sure you all have), then you’ve probably come across it. A lot of you may know it from this scene, for some reason:
Out of context, that clip might be easy to laugh at. Ah, what hilariously over-the-top delivery. Let me just watch some more of The Walking Dead through these opera glasses. But a) it’s a pretty tense scene when you’re actually watching the movie, and b) where did you get opera glasses? I want a pair.
The Warriors, cult status aside, is a cool, well-directed, well-written action movie. Walter Hill’s direction is slick and confident, and Andrew Laszlo’s cinematography creates some really striking visuals. New York in this film—and also in the 70s, I suppose—is a desolate, rain-soaked wasteland. Don’t get me wrong, the film isn’t the kind of over-the-top gritty you’ll find in most things gang-related. The Warriors is an action movie, to be sure, but one that’s grounded in reality. Don’t expect any ridiculous stunts, cheesy one-liners, or shaky camerawork. Well, I’m sold.
The characters may not change much, but the gang members all feel like real people. The actors give very natural performances, and the script, by Walter Hill and David Schaber, never overdoes the tough guy talk. Swan in particular makes for a compelling character. He’s kind of an old school leader figure. Doesn’t talk too much, only fights when he needs to. He’ll defend his war-chief status if need be, but he’s most interested in getting his men home safely. I did some research—blogging is a serious business—and apparently, the novel that the film is based on draws from Xenophon’s Anabasis, the autobiographical story of some Greek soldiers making their way through hundreds of miles of hostile Persian territory after a failed campaign. So that’s neat. I’m too lazy to verify it, but I’d believe that the screenwriters had read up on their epic poetry, or at least their history. Like I said, Swan is old school.
Oh, and when I said that the gang members felt like real people, I was mainly referring to members of the Warriors.
Which brings me, I suppose, back to the film’s style. Some of the gang outfits might seem kind of ridiculous, like the Furies’ baseball attire, or whatever’s going on with these guys:
Somehow, though, all the makeup and leather vests—which, it must be said, look pretty cool when you have a six-pack—don’t detract from the film’s darker tone. Hill and co. take the material seriously. Right from the opening sequence introducing the Warriors and showing the different gangs going to the summit, there’s never a moment where you’re not totally invested in the action, unless you suck. But you can’t really fault the filmmakers for that. That one’s on you.
To conclude, ladies and gentlemen, this film has an excellent script, strong lead performances, and a bitchin’ soundtrack. Can you dig it? I rather suspect that you can.