Hoodlum (1997)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Tim Roth, Cicely Tyson, Andy Garcia
Extras: Trivia Notes, Production Notes, Theatrical trailer

"Hoodlum" is an impetuous movie, based on legendary characters from the 30’s-era Harlem crime scene. Though not completely true to history, neither is it absolutely fictitious. At first glance it appears to be like many other ’30’s crime thrillers, but it soon becomes obvious that "Hoodlum" is a notch above the rest. The movie is engulfing and its stunning visuals, combined with the fast-paced story, bring the glamorous, exciting, yet implicitly dangerous era of the New York crime lords to life like no other movie of recent yeas. The story starts with Bumpy Johnson (Laurence Fishburne) coming out of prison, only to find the numbers racket of Harlem out of control. Numbers queen Stephanie St. Clair (Cicely Tyson) is losing ground to the vulgar Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth), an unscrupulous white opportunist and gangster. When St. Clair is framed and goes to jail after one of Dutch’s setups, Bumpy, her right hand man, takes matters into his hands and declares war against Dutch’s intrusion into his territory. It doesn’t take long until things get out of hands and more blood is shed than money earned – but the brutal war rages on.

Even when their quarrel makes a stir within other gangs and the infamous Lucky Luciano (Andy Garcia) steps in to stop the bloodshed, the two won’t quit. It takes many victims until Bumpy finally realizes it is time to end the war – his way!

At first, Bumpy is eager to bring stability back to Harlem’s numbers racket but over time he grows more greedy and demanding and finally draws close to despair over what seems to be a senseless battle he cannot win. While Bumpy grows colder, quieter and more introverted over the course of the movie, Dutch is exactly the opposite. He is a foul-mouthed, uneducated and ill-bred racist with no brains and plenty of money. The brain-dead gangsters he surrounds himself with would do anything without questioning or reasoning, simpy because they are too dumb to think on their own. Dutch gets more obnoxious – and intrinsically funnier – with every scene he’s in. It is only a matter of time until the calculating Bumpy makes his final move to get the better of Dutch.

"Hoodlum"’s characters are well drawn, most especially Laurence Fishburne’s Bumpy Johnson and Tim Roth’s performance as Dutch Schultz. Garcia’s calculating Lucky Luciano oozes cool machismo. Vanessa Williams is stunning in her part as Bumpy’s love interest with a conscience, a woman who always tries to keep him on the right track, and Cicely Tyson superbly portrays the threatened French-raised queen of the streets.

One of the movie’s most alluring features is the lush production design by Charles Bennett and Frank Tidy’s captivating cinematography. Both have been transferred perfectly onto this DVD. The image is breathtakingly crisp, sharp, and exceedingly detailed, while the colors are rich, saturated, and totally natural. There is no noise or bleeding to be seen anywhere on this disc. The transfer is highly detailed, even in the shadows and scarcely-lit interior and nighttime scenes, making "Hoodlum" a showcase DVD. The disc contains both a 16:9 enhanced <$PS,widescreen> and the <$PS,pan&scan> version of the movie.

Elmer Bernstein’s contemporary soundtrack is another one of the movie’s highlights. It will impress you from its first note to its last. It is rich, well orchestrated, and displays interesting, subtle changes in its motives throughout the picture. It perfectly captures the 30’s atmosphere of Harlem, enhances the images on screen, and delivers heart-pounding impact when necessary. The disc’s <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix exhibits a wide and active soundstage. "Hoodlum" is fully dubbed in English and French and comes with English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

"Hoodlum" is an atmospheric and suspenseful movie about power, betrayal, greed, and racism. It shows that black people were not given any career chances in the 30’s even in the crime world, and when they grew too powerful, the white establishment wouldn’t even want to allow them that option. It also shows how money and power spoil people, turning a warm-hearted and considerate man like Bumpy Johnson into a cold-hearted racketeer and killer. Though Bumpy is the hero of the movie, he pays a high price indeed, until he finally learns his lesson and remembers where he originally came from. The movie also brings to life famous historic places like the Cotton Club, and while displaying the sizzling glamour of the 30’s, it is never palliate.

"Hoodlum" is a greatly entertaining movie and MGM’s excellent transfer to DVD makes this one a disc you will not want to miss out on.