The Tenants

Harkening back to a time when race relations in New York City were even worse than they seem today, Danny Green's adaptation of Bernard Malamud's earnest 1971 novel about art and the clash between black and white feels, thankfully, about as anachronistic as the New York City rents cited in the film. Brooklyn, 1972. Novelist Harry Lesser (Dylan McDermott)...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Harkening back to a time when race relations in New York City were even worse than they seem today, Danny Green's adaptation of Bernard Malamud's earnest 1971 novel about art and the clash between black and white feels, thankfully, about as anachronistic as the New York City rents cited in the film. Brooklyn, 1972. Novelist Harry Lesser (Dylan McDermott) is the last tenant in his rundown building in a particularly bad end of the borough, despite the tireless efforts of his landlord, Levenspiel (Seymour Cassel), to buy him out so he can sell the property to a developer. Levenspiel keeps sweetening the deal, but Lesser refuses to budge until he's finished work on his third novel. His first book was a success, and Lesser's been living off the money he made when Hollywood optioned the rights, but that money is nearly gone and Lesser's second novel was a critical bust. Now, more than ever, Lesser needs to write that one great book that will cement his reputation as a serious American novelist. His efforts are interrupted one afternoon by the clacking of another typewriter down the graffiti-filled hallways of the empty building, which he follows to one of the vacated apartments on his floor. There he meets Willie Spearmint (Snoop Dogg), a onetime drug dealer and numbers runner who's now trying to establish himself as a writer in a raw, Donald Goines vein. Willie spends most nights with his white, Jewish girlfriend Irene (Rose Byrne) but plans on using one of Levenspiel's empty apartments as his "office" until he finishes his book. When Lesser extends his hand in a spirit of literary fraternity and asks what his book is about, he's rudely rebuffed by the angry, temperamental Willie, who peppers his speech with casual, anti-Semitic slurs. A few hours later, however, Willie shows up at Lesser's door asking if wouldn't mind keeping an eye on his typewriter until the morning. Lesser agrees, and a friendship of sorts develops between the two men. When Willie finally lets Lesser read his manuscript, the more experienced novelist makes the mistake of offering an honest critique of Willie's exciting but structurally flawed prose, and once again, Willie loses control. Willie's volatility, and his even scarier black friends, aren't, however, enough to dissuade Lesser from committing an even graver affront to his new friend's pride: Lesser begins sleeping with Irene behind Willie's back. Told entirely from Lesser's increasingly stressed perspective, we learn very little about Willie or any of the black characters in the film; they seem to exist almost as figments of his imagination. Costumed like extras from Foxy Brown and each as dangerous as a switchblade, they all come off as oversexed, dope-smoking caricatures; the scene in which Willie describes his newest work, a violent fable entitled "Kill Whitey," plays like an episode of that old "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood" sketch on SNL. Fatally, Willie Spearmint himself is little more than a symbol, a one-dimensional character who's further flattened by Snoop's one-note performance.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Harkening back to a time when race relations in New York City were even worse than they seem today, Danny Green's adaptation of Bernard Malamud's earnest 1971 novel about art and the clash between black and white feels, thankfully, about as anachronistic a… (more)

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