on September 15, 1995 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
   Though pared and altered for the screen, Spike Lee's adaptation of Richard Price's powerful novel about a drug dealer and a cop pursuing him for a crime captures the story's essence, evoking a melancholy world in which the chances of surviving and staying on the straight and narrow are small.
   Strike (Mekhi Phifer), an inarticulate twentysomething Black American who's fallen into drug dealing, has an orderly life until he's asked by his boss (Delroy Lindo) to carry out a hit. When the deed is done, though, Strike's hard-working, honest brother Victor (Isaiah Washington) confesses to the crime. Veteran detective Rocco Klein (Harvey Keitel) is convinced that Strike is the real killer.
   Unusual for Lee, "Clockers" is consistently lowkey and introspective. Scenes play in leisurely fashion and the narrative meanders before it reaches an unexpected conclusion; even Lee's subtle use of music is unlike anything he's done before. The performances are also atypical. Keitel is softer than usual; Lindo makes Strike's mentor chillingly evil but charming. The neophyte Phifer has the tricky part; as in the novel, he doesn't act so much as react, and that Strike nonetheless is so compelling is testament to Phifer's talents. "Clockers" is marred somewhat by anti-drug preachiness, and its emphasis on the black characters at the expense of the white ones, unlike the state of affairs in Price's novel, reflects Lee's biases. But otherwise it's that rare movie that does justice to its literary antecedent.    Starring Harvey Keitel, Delroy Lindo and Mekhi Phifer. Directed by Spike Lee. Written by Spike Lee and Richard Price. Produced by Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and John Kilik. A Universal release. Drama. Rated R for strong graphic violence, strong language and drug content. Running time: 128 min.
Tags: adaptation, Spike Lee, crime, murder, police, detective, racism, drugs, Mekhi Phifer, Delroy Lindo, Harvey Keitel, John Turturro, Isaiah Washington, Martin Scorsese

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