Menace II Society (United States, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

As a child, Caine (Tyrin Turner) was raised in a "den of thieves", with a heroin-addicted mother and a gun-toting, drug-pushing father. At the age of five, Caine learns how to shoot a gun and witnesses his father kill someone in cold blood. By the time of his high school graduation, he's already a seasoned drug pusher. One night, he and his friend O-Dog (Larenz Tate) go into a store to get a beer. O-Dog takes exception to a remark made by the owner, and, with Caine standing by his side, guns the man down. Starting at this moment, the pair start down a road of crime that nothing can rescue them from -- not even the fear of death. In fact, when Caine's grandfather asks him if he wants to stay alive, his response is, "I don't know."

The setting for Menace II Society and John Singleton's remarkable Boyz 'N the Hood is the same, and the overwhelming specter of explosive violence hangs over both. Each, in its own way, is a powerful indictment of what life has become for a black man in the inner city, and how the only escape through violence is into the grave. While Boyz 'N the Hood has as its main characters a couple of "good" kids, Menace II Society focuses on the other side. Caine and O-Dog are criminals, given to using their guns to solve problems. Nevertheless, they are portrayed sympathetically and the audience comes to understand and even care about Caine, even though it's impossible to endorse his actions.

The story and characters are well-developed, and we are given a graphic, firsthand depiction of the wages of Caine and O-Dog's lifestyle. The lure of money, prestige, and power are realistically presented, but no moreso than the brutal payment that is exacted to obtain them. Menace II Society also explores the necessity for a person to accept the consequences of his actions, and how an apparently- inconsequential event can trigger a disastrous chain-reaction.

Menace II Society has a devastating impact. Few films possess the power to keep an audience sitting in stunned silence after the end credits begin rolling, but this is one of them. For Menace to work, the characters have to be real. Especially in the case of Caine, whose youth is revealed through extensive flashbacks, they are. Equal credit must go to the production team and the actors. Except for Charles S. Dutton, whose role is little more than a two-scene cameo, none of the performers are well- established. The Hughes Brothers obviously knew what they wanted before going out and getting it.

This film is too stark and powerful to function as simple entertainment. Those that set foot in a darkened theater showing Menace II Society should prepare for a gut-wrenching, emotionally turbulent experience. It won't be a fun time -- at least not in the conventional sense -- but you'll sit through a ninety-seven minute odyssey that won't be quickly forgotten.

Menace II Society (United States, 1993)

Director: Allen and Albert Hughes
Cast: Tyrin Turner, Larenz Tate, Jada Pickett, Charles S. Dutton
Screenplay: Tyger Williams
Cinematography: Lisa Rinzler
Music: QD III
U.S. Distributor: New Line Cinema
Ranked #9 in Berardinelli's Top 10 of 1993
Run Time: 1:37
U.S. Release Date: 1993-05-26
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1