dir: Reggie Rock Bythewood, 2014
Larenz Tate is back on the scene in the TV-film-tie-in beast Gun Hill.
Off the bat, I’ll admit that I watched this film as a film, and not a TV movie/tie-in. Thus, my initial reactions, and some current ones, were a bit harsh.
That being said, the pacing of the film is much more small screen than big screen. From what I understand, Gun Hill premiered on BET earlier this year. That’s all fine and good. The transition to Netflix however doesn’t serve the film any favors. Where there should be commercial breaks, we get short fades in and out. This more or less results in drama and suspense being lost on the viewer.
In addition to these issues, Gun Hill was actually ret-to-go back in 2011, and sat in production limbo for 3 years. All in all, this film had a lot running against it. (And still does, but we’ll get to that).
Tate returns to the titular Bronx neighborhood as Bird, an ex-con who just finished a 12 year bid. Tate also briefly plays Bird’s twin brother, Trane, an undercover cop who seemingly has nothing but loathing for Bird. The two are ambushed and Trane is killed in a driveby. Bird subsequently takes on Trane’s identity and plots thicken, etc.
As events unfold, there are some interesting things going on. The film seems to want to pursue the mechanics of the procedural while exploring Bird’s journey to reconnect with a life he never lived. Tate does well to embody the fearlessness and hurt that swirl around Bird, in the midst of keeping up his charade. In addition, the showcasing of the urban fighting system 52 Blocks, makes for several fun fight scenes.
The film overall though feels incomplete and rushed. As a result, the pacing and character development often suffers. The only fully fleshed character is Bird himself. And even then he can come off flat at times.
I think this is all a symptom of the film’s troubled production. The entire time, there’s this lead-up to something. Yet, by the end of the film, we’re left with more questions than answers. All of which are setup to be resolved with (an assumed) television premier.
Sadly, without that second piece Gun Hill feels half-baked.
In addition, I can’t put my finger on why Being Mary Jane works and Gun Hill doesn’t. Maybe it’s the strange datedness of Gun Hill. This isn’t knock to director Bythewood or the concept, but there’s something about this film that just doesn’t click. In my heart of hearts I wish it did, because if Mary Jane is any sort of example, there’s a potential market for these film-to-series productions. Especially for a network like BET, which is starving for more original and non-music related content.
It has yet to be said when or how the story will be continued, but it feels as though BET wanted to get Gun Hill out before it’s age really began to show. It doesn’t help that 50 Cent’s
vanity project Power premiered this summer, around the same time that Gun Hill dropped. The threat of being overshadowed is high, considering Power’s success (and nascent return this summer.)
Either way, I think Gun Hill has promise. The only question is what will become of it in the long run.
Gun Hill is riding the Uptown 2 Train on Netflix.
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope