The Warriors (1979)
Directed by Walter Hill
The Warriors seems to have run into a pop culture pot hole. Upon it's release, it was labeled as a violent movie without purpose. The truth is very different: it's not a violent movie but rather an artfully crafted dramatic thriller that happens to contain a few scenes of violence. That difference is essential.
Walter Hill's The Warriors takes place in an almost alternate New York, one where over a hundred gangs patrol the streets and command territory, numbering at least 60,000 "soldiers." Hill takes, in his own words, what had previously been portrayed as a social pestilence and shows it as simply a way of life for a certain group of people, a way of life that can lead to death but also to bonds of brotherhood and organization. While many people chose to focus on the scenes of violence, of which there are few and not very violent or bloody, the younger generation gripped onto this story, earning it a dedicated and deserved cult following.
The gangland tale follows a group of nine gangsters, representing their Coney Island-based gang, the titular Warriors. At a massive meeting of all the gangs of New York, prophetic Cyrus, leader of the Riffs and highly influential in their underground circles, is shot and killed. Now the Warriors are trying to get to their home territory in Coney Island, except that they've been falsely accused of being Cyrus' killers. Every gang in the city is looking for them as they hit roadblock after roadblock.
Taking place through a single night and into the next morning, Hill delivers a moody exploration of visual storytelling. So many people get caught up in dialogue, they almost forget that movies are visual tales. In that regard, Hill succeeds stupendously with the help of cinematographer Andrew Laszlo. Dark and atmospheric, The Warriors holds up as a visual tour de force. This visual prowess goes so far as to emphasize body language beyond just acting, containing extensive visual cues. The body language between characters is subtle but just as understandable as dialogue, sometimes better.
Hill takes extreme creative liberties with Sol Yurick's novel. Yurick's book, itself a retelling of an old Greek story, is even darker than the screen portrayal, at turns full of youthful despair and darkly violent. Hill flips Yurick's overarching portrayal and plays it up into something more hopeful while still showing the dark side of youth, especially poor youth caught up in an unfortunate lifestyle. The story is a simple and straightforward one, but Hill manages to give it some cinematic twists, the kind that have become commonplace in the 35+ years since The Warriors was released.
It's that straightforward story that helps to make the movie as good as it is, instead of a simple flop, with good, if somewhat basic, thrills and suspense in the dark atmosphere prodding and pulling the story along. There is no convoluted plot or mess of intersecting characters, so Hill is free to develop his cinematic themes as he sees fit. And it's those themes and visual storytelling that makes The Warriors so relatable to its core audience, the younger generation that's grown up with the movie. Most movies are concerned with growing up, and while Hill may display the hope for that in the final scenes he shows more of the desperate acceptance that comes from being in extremely unfortunate circumstances.
Yurick's book was concerned with the violence and despair that surrounds gang life, and what it can do to the youth who get caught up in it. It was steeped in rape, murder, wanton destruction, a vast separation from society, and an almost primal concern with manhood. Hill's take on the same story shows a more hopeful version.
The main character, Swan, emphasizes Hill's view in the last scenes of the film, "This is what we fought all night to get back to?" Hill uses Swan as the vehicle with which to get his statements across. The dialogue isn't the best, often rocky and unnatural to match the unrealistic setting of the movie, and many of the characters turn out 1-dimensional, but Hill develops Swan as The Warriors saving grace. Swan is given a definite character arc through the chaos of the movie, spouting a negative view of certain lifestyles and conveying hope for better things.
- Acting – 11 / 20
- Story – 14 / 20
- Cinematography – 18 / 20
- Soundtrack – 8 / 10
- Entertainment Factor – 8 / 10
- Thriller/Drama – 6 / 10
- Other – 10 / 10
TL;DR: A definitive cult classic, there's enough good about The Warriors to push it beyond being your average thriller. The darkly beautiful tale of gangs and savage innocence carries a moody weight with it. The violence is few and far between, but not at all one of the main concerns of the film. If a superb story with great acting and dialogue are more your forté then this film shouldn't be your first pick, but its a fun ride with dark thrills and creep suspense, all shot beautifully.