Movie Reviews 139 – The Warriors (1979)

The WarriorsI remember all the commotion surrounding this movie when it was released, eventually being pulled by the studio because of the violence in general and overarching neighborhood gang theme . But aside from the contentious gang elements, there was also a lot of buzz circulating about the cool story and outlandish ‘theme gangs’ being portrayed. As you can imagine, the ‘Streisand Effect’ insured that all adolescents at the time, myself included, just had to see it as soon as we could get our hands on a VHS tape (or Beta if you one of THOSE people).

Seeing it again nearly nearly 35 years later, that ‘forbidden fruit’ vibe still resonates while watching this movie despite the now dated and tame violence it actually shows. But the thrill, and suspense is all still there and the backdrop of a dilapidated, grungy  and graffiti plastered 1970’s New York is even more interesting to revisit today, as much a historical artifact as the movie itself.

New York has more than 200 gangs, each with their own territorial boundaries and in a constant state of flux with predatory incursion fighting amongst themselves. Cyrus, a self proclaimed Messiah like leader, intends to unify all the gangs and end the infighting so as to assemble a force that cannot be controlled by any authority. He and his followers put the word out that there is to be a truce among all the gangs and they are to unite one evening so that he can give me message. The gangs across the city hold their peace for the night and converge in a park. But just as Cyrus begins his speech, a shot rings out and Cyrus falls just as the cops move in. As all hell breaks loose and everyone scrambles, the perpetrator of the fatal shot and leader of the Rogues gang singles out one of the Warriors as the shooter responsible for Cyrus’ death.

Oblivious to the accusation, the Warriors begin their overnight trek back across the city back to their home turf, Coney Island. As they make their way, word gets around that the Warriors are to be stopped. A sultry voiced DJ on a pirate radio station broadcasts their moves while every gang along their path try to stop them. Eventually the Warriors learn that they have been framed, but that is of no consequence as it has been a life or death battle from the start, them thinking that only the temporary truce has been broken. They lose Warriors along the way and even gain the respect of new friend but will they really be safe once they reach their sanctuary?

The offbeat stylized gangs they battle along the way are as much the stars of the movie as the Warriors themselves. Originally casting a bunch of new actors, this low budget project exceeded all expectations and still stands as one of the best ‘gang’ movies out there.

Dexter fans may want to see if they can spot a very young and almost unrecognizable James Remar (Dexter’s dad) as one of the warriors.

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