Director-writer Steve Anderson conjures up a realistic portrayal of Black ghetto life in SOUTH CENTRAL. More intimate than the recent rash of inner-city gang-themed films, this debut film focuses on relationships as much as the violence which is commonly associated with the genre. Although
inconsistent in tone, it is an emotionally wrenching account of life on the mean streets of Los Angeles.
It's 1982 and Bobby Johnson (Glenn Plummer) has just been released from prison for armed robbery. Obviously unchanged from his stay in stir, Bobby rejoins his gang, the "Deuces," which he had formed with his friend Ray Ray (Byron Keith Minns). Ray Ray has gang expansion on the mind--envisioning
the Deuces as the coming power in LA's criminal world. Bobby is anxious to rekindle his relationship with his wife, Carole (LaRita Shelby), and his infant son, Jimmie. Before long, he runs into trouble with a neighboring drug dealer who has been moving in on the Deuces' turf and Bobby's wife
during his absence.
Bobby and the Deuces concoct a plan to kill the rival dealer. After ramming a car into the dealer's nightclub, Ray Ray hands Bobby a gun and watches as he pumps two bullets into his chest. Later that night, a somber Bobby has the Deuces' killer mark burned onto his face. After hiding out for a few
months, Bobby agrees to take a ride with some gang members. When one of them, Loco (Vincent Craig Dupree), propositions a hooker who is an undercover cop, they are arrested. The police finger Bobby in the drug dealer's killing and he is convicted of murder. He holds his baby one last time before
leaving for prison.
Ten years later, Bobby appears older and more pumped up from constantly lifting weights in the slammer. Having been turned down for parole a half dozen times, he is resigned to a long stay behind bars. He hears from outside that Ray Ray is building up the Deuces into the thousands--and that his
former partner is using Bobby's son, Jimmie (Christian Coleman), now a ten-year-old, to steal car radios. Bobby breaks with the other Deuces inside and becomes open game. When some white inmates target him for an attack, Bobby is saved from the near beating by a fellow prisoner, Ali (Carl Lumbly).
Ali is a lifer and takes the bitter Bobby as his cell mate--extolling to him the virtues of the Muslim religion and redemption through love and education. Bobby initially is resistant to Ali's words, but after his boy is shot while stealing a radio, Bobby is desperate for some focus in his life.
Ali breaks down and tells Bobby he lost his own son to the streets and was put in prison for killing his son's murderer. In time Bobby loses his anger and gains his self-worth back. He begins to understand the cycle of hate which has permeated his life. With Ali's help, Bobby is finally granted
parole and given a chance for a fresh start. "Go save your son," are Ali's last words to Bobby before he leaves prison.
Back in the 'hood, things have changed. Carole is a full-blown PCP addict and Jimmie has been taken as a ward of the state and placed in a boys' home. When Bobby manages to get in to see his son, Jimmie is skeptical of this stranger, especially when Bobby tells him that violence and gang life are
not the answer. He promises Jimmie he will get him out of the home but the boy is disappointed--this isn't the ruthless killer he has heard about for years. Jimmie is more interested in seeking revenge on the man who shot him, Willie Manchester (Ivory Ocean).
The next day, Bobby hears that his son has gone back to Ray Ray. Bobby arrives at the Deuces' warehouse where he confronts Ray Ray and Jimmie. Ray Ray treats Bobby like an outsider and refuses to give up the boy, as Bobby pleads with his son to stay away from the gang life. Then Ray Ray hands a
gun to Jimmie and produces Willie Manchester for him to shoot. Bobby wrestles a gun away from Ray Ray's bodyguard, Bear (Lexie D. Bigham), and forces a standoff with Ray Ray. He begs him to release his son, who has now had his fill of gang violance. Ray Ray knows he owes Bobby ten years, so he
allows father and son to leave--facing an uncertain future.
SOUTH CENTRAL is honorable in its intentions. Anderson refuses to glamorize the story, and that remains the true strength of the film. Instead, he offers a raw, moving portrait of a man who is forced to come face to face with himself and his chosen lifestyle. Drugs, violence and the gangs are the
big picture, but the emotional impact of the father-son relationship is what viewers will remember. Loyalty and family play a large part of the film's underlying theme. The protagonist has always been loyal to the only family he had--the gang. But now he has his own family and that loyalty heavily
outweighs the former. This family appeal is the reason gangs have proliferated in the ghetto, and Anderson never belittles that fact. Unfortunately, along with that family comes violent crime.
The storyline is successfully carried through to Bobby's redemption, and Anderson seems to be saying that there is still hope if the family unit can stay intact. Thankfully, the director keeps the violence at a tolerable level. He also has a keen ear for the nuances of South Central LA. The
constant woosh of jets overhead adds a sense of realism to the neighborhood, which actually lies at the foot of the airport. Most directors would avoid such extraneous noise at all costs--it works here. Less successful is the film's tendency to be somewhat heavy-handed in its message. In one
particular scene, the Deuces walk into a nightclub and the music stops as the entire crowd gawks at their presence. Cartoonish characters, especially noticeable in the prison sequences, also tend to weaken the film. The white prisoners, supposedly of the Aryan Nation, and some of the overacting
junkies, are nothing more than cardboard cutouts.
Generally though, the story retains believability and is compelling to watch. The cast is uneven, but there are a few standouts. Plummer plays Bobby with a quiet intensity which works especially well against the backdrop of loudness. His naturalistic style is refreshing to watch, and the changes
which occur in him, after he accepts his mistakes and later when he meets his son, are beautifully played. As the inspirational Ali, Lumbly is brilliant. He does more with his limited screen time than all of the larger roles. When he explains to Bobby about the hatred they both carry around
inside, it is easily the strongest moment in the film. Coleman is a fine young actor. He plays both sides of Jimmy, child and tough hood, with convincing depth.
SOUTH CENTRAL is the type of film which gives people--regardless of race or nationality--hope. True, its message sometimes is laid on a little thick, but it would be hard to dislike a picture with so much genuine caring and good ambitions. It answers a very complex question rather simply. How do
we stop the proliferation of gangs and crime? It starts in the home. (Violence, profanity, substance abuse.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: Director-writer Steve Anderson conjures up a realistic portrayal of Black ghetto life in SOUTH CENTRAL. More intimate than the recent rash of inner-city gang-themed films, this debut film focuses on relationships as much as the violence which is commonly a… (more)