Jerry Schatzberg (Scarecrow, Panic in Needle Park) can be an attentive
director to the mundane and the types of people in urban environments
left by the wayside, but he needs something of a really powerful script
to work with. For some of its powerful and intriguing and sometimes
oddly funny scenes, Street Smart doesn't have a great script. It is
mostly conventional, in fact, tailored for Christopher Reeve's pet
project (apparently he got to star in this thanks, and/or no thanks, to
Superman 4), and it is also tailored for what Reeve can do as a
somewhat limited actor. He's a great star in the sense of his presence
and charm on camera, but can only be taken so far as to how he can work
with other actors, or what he has to work with which is usually not
very much. Thankfully, there's one actor that shoots to the moon and
outshines everybody by a mile, particularly for this kind of project.
(Reeve's) character Jonathan in Street Smart is a journalist who's down on his luck with stories until he comes up with a sure-fire bet to spring him back: the day in the life of a pimp for New York magazine (yes, New York has done and still does these kind of profiles). At first, he just makes it up with a person named 'Tyrone'. But it turns out his story, which includes details of a murder, fits relatively (or a lot) with Fast Black (Morgan Freeman), a take-no-prisoners thug in the guise of a man of the streets who is a force of evil, but a devilishly charming one at that, turning on a dime from street-savvy pimp to ruthless abuser and, as it turns out, killer. Jonathan thinks it'll be alright despite what was or wasn't in the written piece, and meets with and follows along Fast Black for a day. It soon starts to go further down from here.
Schatzberg does best in capturing this now (thankfully) wiped-away street life and porno district along Times Square and in other parts of New York, going along at times casually- too casually perhaps- in getting this mood down. He also neglects certain things in the story, like the importance of Jonathan's own flaws and fooling around with a prostitute, and some details about him as a TV news reporter. And yet, even with faults in the writing, Schatzberg got one thing incredibly right: casting Freeman as Fast Black. This is a part that could have been played up, maybe even as an exploitation flick, but Freeman takes hold of it and creates his breakthrough film performance (it was shortly after this he got Lean on Me and Driving Miss Daisy). It would be one thing if he hammed it up, but somehow he doesn't; his Fast Black is a lucid, hot-headed, vicious but somehow human villain in Street Smart, and he ends up bringing out the best in Reeve and Kathy Baker and his other co-stars like his prostitutes, including one terrifying scene where one asks to quit.
Years from now, when Freeman likely will get some AFI tribute or something or lifetime achievement on TV, Street Smart might be neglected among his most famous parts but shouldn't be. It's a case of an actor raising material, which is neither spectacular or mediocre but just about alright 80s material, higher than it deserves to be, which is both a credit to him and to Schatzberg for reeling him along just right.
Action / Crime / Drama / Thriller
Action / Crime / Drama / Thriller
Magazine reporter Jonathan Fisher, in danger of losing his job, promises to write a factual hard-hitting story of prostitution. But when he tries to get information from the subjects, he is ignored. So he ends up faking a well received story of a pimp, describing his life and crimes. But police think the story is of a real life pimp who is wanted for murder and start pressuring him to reveal the identity of subject in his story, and all he knows. The pimp the police suspect, also thinks the story is about himself, and wants to know what Jonathan knows, and who told him.
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April 20, 2016 at 04:42 AM