I love gangster films, any kind of style of gangster films, because while a lot of them are romanticised there is truth behind them. I find them to be some of the most realistic films out there, and have a tonne more depth to them, then a lot of stale drama’s which are constantly getting Oscar nominated. This is a genre of film, which needs to be examined more, where do these stories come from originally before they were put on paper? Who experienced them? What happened to them? There will always be certain gangster films which will always be ahead of the pack, because a fair amount of money, experience and talent came together and created something brilliant. But they shouldn’t get all the credit. There are a lot of films out there, which may only have one actor which you may know of, or sometimes they don’t even have that, or they may not have a huge budget, but their story can be more realistic than any romanticised gangster film out there. ‘One Eight Seven’ is one of the most brutally honest portrayal’s of gang and street life I have seen on film. I only found out about this film several days ago from someone who know’s my taste in movies pretty well, and told me to give it a try; I am so glad I did. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the screen.
The lead actor in this is Samuel L. Jackson, and you may be thinking ‘Oh God really? I cannot take him seriously’, and sure you can have that opinion. However when he makes a film like ‘One Eight Seven’ he can make as many ‘Snake’s on a Plane’ type of movies as much as he likes. I never fully realised how much of an intense actor he was until I saw this film, and he proved he has some great acting chops on him, and should definitely be recognised for an honest film such as this. Jackson plays a teacher by the name of Trevor Garfield, who is a teacher that was stabbed by a student for failing him. He then becomes a substitute at another school, and again he feels it’s the same damn routine again. The kids just don’t really want to learn or be there, and because most I’d assume don’t have the best home lives, they have had to ‘grow up’ quicker and they think they know best. He tries to establish discipline but fairness towards the students, and that doesn’t go down well with several of them, and backfires on him. And while he does try to reach out to certain gang members, he realises it was a waste of time, he didn’t want to give up on the kids but until they help themselves get out of their hole, there isn’t much more he can do. He believes everything should be fair but when he realises certain gangs do not play fair, he has to play their game with them, and try and beat them and shake some sense into them.
Another stand out performance has to go to Clifton Collins Jr. AKA Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez, and yes he really did go by the name Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez. He plays Cesar Sanchez who was the 2IC and now leader of a street gang, and man is he an intense guy. At first appearances he is acting like a punk, and you think he couldn’t do any real harm, but then you see the hate filled eyes he possesses, and it gave me chills to think of the damage and hurt he could cause people. Throughout the film, we see him becoming more aggressive and more hateful, and more self destructive. He isn’t a man at all, he is just an angry child in a young man’s skin suit, it’s like a disguise. He knows the system has failed his family, and we see just how much it has failed them but also how his mother just cannot control him. It’s a sad thing to hear a woman say how she wishes God would just take her son, just so she could find some peace for a while. A lot of things can affect a guy like Cesar, it’s the whole ‘Nature Vs Nurture’ debate. He probably didn’t have a positive, strong male role model in his life, the only ones who probably wanted to take him under their wing is street gangs. It probably feels like the only ‘family’ he knows, and now because he has been involved in this for so long he is misguided. The sad thing is towards the end of the film, you start to see the cracks showing through his cool exterior and you realise he really is a self loather. And when he finally comes to that realisation, it’s too late.
‘One Eight Seven’ isn’t glossy in terms of production, set design, score, or anything technical. It is just an honest and realistic depiction, and you can feel the brutality of what these characters are suffering daily. It’s intense, and as a viewer it really made me want everyone to come out alive, changed for the better, but the voice in the back of my head was saying ‘Jade are you dreaming? That won’t happen’…and sure enough that voice was right. I won’t ruin the film for any of you, but all I can say is while it’s not overly violent, it leaves a lot to your imagination, with clever narrative and editing. While I didn’t know any of the songs in the film besides one which was by Massive Attack, I did like how the soundtrack was authentic. It wasn’t just full of rap and hip hop songs that we have heard a dozen times before on many film soundtracks. The editing was very well done, and I loved the close ups on the actors faces, because it really did capture their depth, intensity and hate in their eyes, and I felt it really added to the mood of the film.
There is a lot of themes in this film, which make you think beyond what you just watched. It makes you wonder how could so many people out there be living lives like this. It also makes me wonder about other real life stories that are out there that are like this. After I watched it, it made me wonder how can you get out of a gang like that or any other alive? What would you have to go through? What part of yourself will you have to sacrifice? But also what will you have to live with for the rest of your life? I could never fully imagine what they must go through, before, during and maybe even after they leave a gang, but I don’t think it’s as pleasant or as ‘fun’ as they make it seem. There are a lot of factors of why these kids join these gangs, and since a lot of them can be quite young when they join, they haven’t quite grasped life and how dark it can really get, so they may not understand the repercussions to their actions yet. Some may end up dead, in jail, in the Witness Protection Program or some may be living a new life but always remembering their past life, and knowing that it won’t go away. And while there will be gang members out there which have left that life behind them, you will always have those people who will always think of you as a gangster and nothing more, not even bothering to care to see how much you have grown and changed for the good; and I think that’s wrong. You may be thinking ‘How can you feel sorry for someone who commits crimes and hurts others?’. They may have paid for their crimes, or they might not, but if they have a heart, and warm eyes which are under a hard and cold glaze, I can sympathise with the pain they will have to suffer in their head daily. I don’t think anyone should commit any kind of hate onto anyone, I really don’t, and I am not condoning what they do, but part of me feels sorry for them. It’s a shame, when you really think about it. These kids may have come from broken homes, and they may be messed up mentally, shut off, and this is their only way of living, some may get out, some may not, but as long as people hate and aren’t there for them the cycle will continue. ‘One Eight Seven’ made me want to shake these kids, but at the end it made me want to say to them ‘What was the point in it all?’ ‘What did you get out of it?’
I am not going to pretend I know everything about gangs, because I don’t. I just know what I feel, when I watch movies like this, or watch documentaries, read articles, or listen to real life stories. When I was younger I always thought movies were black and white, and that is how I always saw the criminal justice system, but it isn’t. There are a lot of films you could watch about gang life and you may think they are the best ones out there, but you need to dig beneath that glossy surface and find the meat. Gangster movies are a big passion of mine, but street gang movies are something I didn’t watch a whole lot of besides the mainstream ones, and now I am finding that the lesser known films are just as good, if not better. So I say to all your gangster movie buffs out there, get out of your mainstream and romanticised seat and watch something with a bit more depth, and honesty to it, pretty sure you will dig it. ‘One Eight Seven’ made me think a lot, and made me question society and how much we actually help one another for the greater good, and let’s face it, we don’t. We fear things we don’t understand, and we go on with our lives and pretend that all that hate which gets passed on from generation to generation doesn’t exist. We are all guilty of it including myself, I am no better than anyone. It’s great that films like ‘One Eight Seven’ exist, while it may not make you get off your butt and do something about what’s wrong with all the hate we expose one another to, at least the film will make you think about it. People shouldn’t let all that hate consume their mind and heart, it’s so much more easier to hate someone than to love someone, and that’s where we need to change it.