The lead cops, whose casting may be holdovers from when this was first planned as a Martin Scorsese picture, get first billing, but the film belongs to Mekhi Phifer as Strike, sort of the D’Angelo Barksdale of this story. He’s a mid-level drug dude with a stern and intense boss (Delroy Lindo) whose heart (and stomach) isn’t in his work. The poor guy either executes a rival or guilts his brother into doing it, and he’s such a harmless dude that even the cops help him get away in the end. Whoever called this a trial run for 25th Hour nailed it.

Keitel and “Chucky”:

Strike tries to get himself a protegee named Tyrone, but keeps getting yelled at by Tyrone’s mom. Some Spike Lee weirdness keeps you on your toes – the climactic murder by Tyrone is foreshadowed in a VR game, and what was up with that “No More Packing” billboard with the gun in a lunchbox? Best of all is when Harvey Keitel, terrible at his job, is telling Tyrone what he should say to get off for the killing, appearing by the kid’s side in alternate-flashback versions of the events.

Showdown:

Somebody was not careful when writing character names – with only a few lead roles, why would you name four of them Ronny and Rodney, Errol and Darryl? Also funny to hear an interviewee correct the cops’ pronunciation of his name “Jesus,” with John Turturro standing right behind him.

“There were atrocities on both sides.” Let’s see if I have this straight… American gold intended to pay Vietnamese allies fighting vietcong was found by Chadwick Boseman’s squad… CB wants to distribute it to Black countrymen, but is killed by accident by Delroy Lindo, who then hides the gold along with surviving buddies Isiah Whitlock, Clarke Peters and Norm Lewis.

The four return to Vietnam in present-day with Delroy’s son Jonathan Majors (Monty in The Last Black Man) and tour guide Vinh, locating the gold and the remains of their commander. This is where I thought they’d turn on each other out of paranoid greed, per the Sierra Madre comparisons I’d read, but it’s the already unstable MAGA-hat Delroy who holds the others hostage, and their smuggler middleman Jean Reno leading the fight against them. Only Peters and Majors make it out alive, and about a sixth of the gold is donated to Black Lives Matter, which ain’t bad. Whoever said this movie has more aspect-ratio clowning than The Grand Budapest Hotel was right, and I hadn’t heard about all the injections of historical photos. The only part I didn’t buy is an anti-landmine organization happening to walk by moments after someone steps on a mine.