Spike Lee cinematographer Ernest Dickerson (he shot Spike's first 6 films) makes a stylish, dark debut with the 1992 teen drama "Juice". Set in Harlem, the story chronicles the lives of 4 friends (including Tupac Shakur in a strong debut) trying to stay out of trouble. 'Q' is an aspiring DJ who holds fierce all his intentions to stay clean and away from danger. Steel is a chubby homeboy who wishes for nothing other than to have fun. Raheem, a teenage father, serves as the level-headed leader and peace keeper, and Bishop is a hot-headed firecracker eager to start war with the neighborhood gang (although these 4 don't behave like or consider themselves any sort of gang). Soon enough, trouble erupts when they rob the local liquor store in search of "juice" (power, respect) and a war erupts between Q and Bishop. Expectedly, Q would rather focus on an upcoming DJ contest but trash-talking Bishop has other plans. Dickerson's directorial manner is sleek and balanced, his camera and editing preferences are not as out there and in-your-face as Spike Lee, yet he knows exactly where to put the camera for each scene (the cross-cutting police interrogation sequence is most dynamic, better than that of "The Usual Suspects" and it pre-dates that film by 3 years as well). Dickerson also chooses to avoid the obvious route expected in these kinds of films and delivers a sad, somber ending. The film is stamped hard with the look, sound and feel of the early 90's (an excellent era of those "urban" films if you ask me), colorful clothing, an excellent hip-hop soundtrack and murky neon lighting. If this is up your alley, I also suggest Bill Duke's equally powerful "Deep Cover" (also from 1992). It's too bad that Dickerson's further efforts have not topped this engaging premiere.
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