It’s release day for Frank White and a limousine awaits at the prison gates, his power undiminished and his gang still loyal and willing to kill for him, and in the years he has spent behind bars his ambition has only increased, to be the King of New York and to run the city without interference from rival gangs or the law.
Back across the Brooklyn Bridge to the lights of the city that never sleeps, Frank slips between back room card games hosted by Mafia bosses and upmarket restaurants, he eats from fine china and is never without a gun to enforce his will and his vision, tolerating not one word of dissent, eliminating the competition who will not capitulate or side with him.
With unquestioned confidence beyond mere arrogance, The Dead Zone’s Christopher Walken is Frank White, specifically sought by director Abel Ferrara for the role, King of New York their first collaboration though they would establish a friendship and reunite for The Addiction, The Funeral and New Rose Hotel.
Released in 1990, King of New York feels like an overhang of eighties excess, as though time did not move forward while Frank was incarcerated, his waiting henchmen including a swaggering Larry Fishburne as enforcer Jimmy Jump, a performance so broad it almost feels like parody, and Steve Buscemi as Test Tube, quality assurance in the cutthroat world of drugs.
Representing the law are Victor Argo, David Caruso and Wesley Snipes as Detectives Bishop, Gilley and Flanigan of the New York Police Department narcotics squad, relegated to mopping up the mess that Frank leaves behind as long as they abide by the rules which Frank breaks at every opportunity.
Released by Arrow in a new 4K restoration from the original negative approved by Ferrara and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, the supporting features are copious with two separate commentaries and numerous archive interviews and documentaries on both the film and Ferrara’s wider career, his body of work varied and illustrious.
Slick and stylish but barren, Ferrara looking back on King of New York as “a decadent period… and we didn’t even realise it,” and perhaps in a reflection of that time and culture the few women are almost superficial and decorative, draped on arms or beds or used as a shield from bullets, expendable.
Another tale of the many faces of his home city, less graphic than Driller Killer but more accessible than The Addiction, like Bad Lieutenant and Dangerous Game, Ferrara pushes his performers to the edge – never very far for the eternally idiosyncratic Walken – in what he recognises as a metaphor rather than a representation of reality, encapsulating the film as the “working class of the cops versus the nouveau riche of the drug dealers.”