It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The movie begins with King David dead and in his coffin. I am not giving anything away; it's the first shot. Dead he may be, but he narrates the story of his own life from beyond the grave, like Tupac Shakur in "Tupac: Resurrection." He has kept a diary on cassette tapes, and they come into the possession of an earnest white writer named Paul (David Arquette). Paul has a poster of Hemingway on the wall of his shabby rented room and engages in the risky business of hanging out around tough types in Harlem drug bars. He's doing research, he thinks, or looking for trouble, we think.
The movie's plot is not nearly as linear and simple as I've made it sound so far. It loops back and forth through 10 years of time, in flashbacks and memories, and there are several other major players. As it opens, King David has returned from Los Angeles to New York in order to "make amends" by repaying a debt to a higher-level drug kingpin named Moon (Clifton Powell), and Moon has sent his relatively untested lieutenant Mike (Michael Ealy) and another man to collect the cash payment. When that turns violent against Moon's specific instructions, it sets in motion a chain of events with beginnings that coil back through time, including the connection King David does not know he has with Mike.
"Never Die Alone," written by James Gibson and based on a novel by the legendary ex-con writer Donald Goines, is not a routine story of drugs and violence, but an ambitious, introspective movie in which a heartless man tells his story without apology. The evil that he did lives after him, but there is no good to inter with his bones. What he cannot quite figure out at the end is how this white kid came into his life, and is driving him to the hospital, and seems to know his story.
There's action in the movie, but brief and brutal; this is not an action picture but a drama that deserves comparison with "Scarface" and "New Jack City." The many characters are all drawn with care and dimension, especially the three women who have the misfortune to enter David's life; they're played by Reagan Gomez-Preston, Jennifer Sky and Keesha Sharp. Each is on screen relatively briefly; each makes a strong impression.
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