It's impossible to be objective about influential films – cult films doubly so. Fortunately, Walter Hill
's 1979 film The Warriors
doesn't have the cultural presence of movies like Office Space
or The Rocky Horror Picture Show
. The film is a loose adaptation of Sol Yurick
's novel of the same name, itself a loose adaptation of Xenophon
, an ancient Greek tale. And legacy aside, The Warriors
is a stylish movie and a fine cut of action.
New York in '79 was troubled. Young hoodlums roamed the streets in stylish themed gang outfits, with limited access to West Side Story songbooks. All joking aside, Cyrus (Roger Hill
), leader of the Gramercy Riffs, has called a good-faith summit of the 100 toughest youth gangs in NYC to discuss a unified takeover of the city. Cleon (Dorsey Wright
) leads the Warriors, a red-vested gang from Coney Island.
Luther (David Patrick Kelly
), leader of the Rogues, shoots and kills Cyrus with a smuggled revolver. In the ensuing chaos, he accuses Cleon of the crime and flees. The Riffs beat Cleon to death as the remaining Warriors rally in a nearby cemetery with Swan (Michael Beck
) as their new leader. They set out across hostile territory to catch a train back home. Meanwhile, the Riffs' new leader, Masai (Edward Sewer
) has called for the remaining Warriors' capture or death.
Under Swan's leadership, the warriors flee and fight their way through gangs and police alike. After an encounter with the Orphans, a girl named Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh
) takes a liking to Swan and follows the gang. All the while, the Rogues are lurking south towards Coney Island. In the end, the Rogues and Warriors meet face to face on the beach. But Masai and the Riffs roll in before the fighting starts to take their revenge on the Rogues. Swan and Mercy talk about leaving New York altogether as the sun rises.
By and large, the gangs have mounds of style in this movie. The Riffs are a militant black army in martial arts robes, clearly on a different level than anyone else. The Warriors' red vests are striking but neutral enough that each Warrior stands out. And on the most absurd end of things are the Baseball Furies, dressed in Yankees uniforms and colorful face paint. But the best style element is the DJ (Lynne Thigpen
), seen only as a pair of lips in dim lighting, announcing gangland news and orders as part of her set. She's a narrator, and divides chapters of the story splendidly.
As far as the acting goes, Kelly is the standout. Luther comes off as unstable and vicious – a fine villain. But he keeps a veneer of cool, even as he's getting more and more worried about silencing the Warriors. Beck, on the other hand, is icy to the core; he comes off a little flat, but it works for the character. Rembrandt (Marcelino Sánchez
) has a little more depth of character than most of the Warriors; he's a scared kid, but he's canny and level-headed.
The dialog is stiff in places, especially when the action slows down. Fortunately, the visual storytelling is strong enough that the emotional payload still hits. But there are a few bigger issues; the Warriors don't know about the hit on them until late, and when they find out there's no emotional response to the news. Character deaths and angst over the squalor of inner-city living get glossed over.
But there's reason to believe some of these decisions are deliberate and downright smart. The focus on violence and cheap sex over the deaths and emotional moments might be an attempt to put the audience inside the heads of the characters. When death is inevitable and lurking nearby, maybe the quick thrill of a fight is all that sticks. One of my favorite scenes happens later in the film, when Swan and Mercy stare down two prom night couples on the train. They've been fighting for their lives all night while these people, who look like they're the same age, have been living it up in rented formal wear.
is about running away and staying alive. It's a full-length action sequences, and it's excellent. Though it doesn't have the best emotional payoff I've ever seen in an action movie, it hits in unexpected places. And visually, it's gorgeous, right down to the grubby linoleum in Union Station
. Cult classic or not, influential or not, The Warriors
is a movie well worth watching.
Congratulations, you're one movie closer to justifying that $8.99 a month.