Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”
There may not be a way to make this movie sound appealing, since the material it covers is so bleak that I struggle to recall one of its characters ever breaking into a smile. And it doesn't help that the script is so flat-footed that it makes these veteran actors seem like amateurs. But this is indeed a good film and worth seeing, since it probes one of the most critical issues in modern America (inner-city poverty & violence) and roundly condemns its subject without going over the top or becoming politicized. There's no big dramatic payoff or liberal speechifyin', just a frank portrayal of Chicago's inner-city by two intelligent young residents who look around them, find it depressing, and know they have to get out by any means possible. Ernest Dickerson, a cinematographer known for bright colors, directs the film in blacks and whites against his instincts, making the boys' world seem bleached by day and engulfed in shadow by night; only in the characters' dreams do vivid colors emerge. There was little that could be done about the awkward dialogue (I've read the book and several passages seemed to be quoted verbatim), but the film transcends it as both a competent artistic production and an important cry of anguish for people struggling with poverty every day. It's definitely worth seeing.