The Warriors (1979)
The Warriors (1979)

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.

Release Date: February 9th, 1979 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Walter Hill Actors: Michael Beck, James Remar, Dorsey Wright, Brian Tyler, David Harris, Tom McKitterick, Marcelino Sanchez, Terry Michos, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Roger Hill, David Patrick Kelly, Mercedes Ruehl

 


 

“E

verybody says that Cyrus is the one and only.” That young man – and current leader of the biggest gang in the city – has his eyes set on governing all the divided groups that rule the streets of New York. Of the more than 100 gangs, nine unarmed envoys from each one are requested to meet at the Bronx to hear Cyrus’ speech. The gathering is enormous. And Cyrus’ (Roger Hill) address is momentous, insisting that with a uniting of the 60,000 members, they can easily control the entire city, taking over one borough at a time – as there are barely 20,000 policemen to patrol them.

When Luther (David Patrick Kelly), the leader of the “Rogues’” delegates, assassinates Cyrus mid-speech, just as the cops arrive, all hell breaks loose. Luther also manages to convincingly blame the representatives of the Coney Island gang “The Warriors” for the murder, forcing them into a flight – and fight – for their lives. The temporary truce that was previously in place is surely shattered, making their mission to assemble at the platform at Union Square a task mired in deadliness.

To complicate matters further, Cleon (Dorsey Wright) is supposed to be the war chief, but in his absence (he got lost in the shuffle), Swan (Michael Beck) assumes the title. Ajax (James Remar) wants to proclaim himself acting warlord instead, causing tensions within the group. And although they manage to get onto a subway train, a rival posse sets fire to the tracks, forcing the Warriors to hoof it to the next station – through the territory of the “Orphans,” a small outfit that can’t have just anyone wandering about their territory. What could have been a somewhat diplomatic confrontation intensifies when loudmouth girl Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) tries to incite a brawl. And that’s just the beginning of their treacherous trek back to Coney Island, with frequent dangers splitting up the group.

Mostly abandoned streets and subway stations furnish thrilling playgrounds for anarchical showdowns. Although not futuristic, the environments have a nearly postapocalyptic feel to them, with their isolation, bleakness, and subterraneous coldness – nicely decorated with spray paint and degradation and providing plenty of options for makeshift weaponry. They’re grand backdrops to the action sequences, featuring scuffles almost as sinister as the droog fracases in “A Clockwork Orange,” though more serious in choreography and not tinged with the same degree of weirdness (or Beethoven). Directed by Walter Hill (“The Driver,” “Southern Comfort,” “48 Hrs.”), who would predominantly helm adventure flicks (this was only his third time in the director’s chair), “The Warriors” manages exciting action as capably as inescapable notes on socioeconomic politics (based on Sol Yurick’s novel) – bravely offering no solution other than making it through the night alive.

In this antiestablishment piece, the police serve as the enemies just as much as contesting gangs, wielding nightsticks like the baseball bats toted by the face-painted “Furies.” Poverty, the disposable role of women, the power and interference of the media (as demonstrated through a female radio DJ’s narration of the Warriors’ movements across the city, which is quite reminiscent of Wolfman Jack’s announcements in “American Graffiti”), and restrictive social circles make for interesting nemeses as well, though their contributions to the commentary on gang life take a backseat to the cinematic knifing, Molotov cocktails, gun-brandishing seductresses, and asides for sex with random chicks. Supplemented by Barry DeVorzon’s groovy score, hypnotic cinematography by Andrew Laszlo, an expert sense of atmosphere and tone, and style that bursts from the screen, “The Warriors” is an influential survivalist thriller that would become a renowned cult classic.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10