The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1105): MENACE II SOCIETY -- A Harrowing Look at a Life of Crime
By Dan Skip Allen
Menace II Society takes place in Los Angeles in the wake of the riots that happened in the early '90s. The Hughes Brothers — Albert and Allen — show a world of drugs and crime and hard streets and neighborhoods where teens tend to grow up fast. Criterion has branched out and started getting the rights to some of these more urban films with different takes on inner-city life. This Hughes Brothers film is that.
The film focuses mainly on two young men Caine (Tyrin Turner) and O Dog (Lorenz Tate, Girls Trip) They get into all kinds of trouble from robbing convenience stores to selling drugs on the street and holding up people for basically nothing. They hang with a gang of guys that do the exact same thing. This lifestyle leads them down the wrong path and death follows.
The film has some very famous actors in supporting roles as well. Samuel L. Jackson plays Caine's father Tat Lawson in flashback scenes from the 1970s, who gave him this idea of a life of drugs and crime. Jada Pinkett Smith (The Matrix) plays Connie, a young mother who is interested in Caine. He cares about her as well as her young son. Charles S. Dutton (Rudy) is a teacher, Mr. Butler, who tries to give Caine a new perspective on life from a religious point of view, using the Muslim religion to help get him out of the neighborhood.
The Hughes Brothers get to the heart of what it's like for Black youths and the citizens in general in Compton and South Central L.A. As the song says, it's hard out there for people in these neighborhoods. Caine has people that love him and want to rescue him from this lifestyle. It means leaving his friends and grandparents behind though. And that's not an easy decision for him. He's a young man with a lot on his mind and his plate. Things aren't easy for him any way you slice it.
The film has a great soundtrack that goes along with the film as well. Songs from various rap groups and labels of this time period rang throughout the film, like "Straight Up Menace", "Packin' a Gun", and "Only the Strong Survive" are all anthems for the world this film takes place in. Artists such as D Quick, Too Short, and MC Eiht sing songs that talk about the gangster lifestyle and growing up in this world of drugs, guns, and crime. The music perfectly fits the film's feel and vibe.
Menace II Society captures the feel of this world faultlessly. The blood and violence of this world are too hard for some people to escape. Tiger Williams wrote a great script depicting this lifestyle. If this film isn't a tragic look at why this kind of life doesn't pay, I don't know what will. The Hughes Brothers made a film that transcends. Any kid from any neighborhood in any state in America can relate to this kind of story. Almost thirty years after it came out, it's still relevant today.
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