Hurricane Streets has the feel of a low budget indie. The acting is mostly wooden with no recognizable (to me) actors, there’s a grim undertone to the proceedings, there are no fancy special effects or anything that looks like it would cost a lot of money, and the film has a gritty sincerity to it.
It’s not quite as dreary to watch as some films of that description though. It doesn’t take place all or mostly in the dark. It’s written and edited in a way that makes the story coherent and not too hard to follow—including not just the plot in broad terms, but the particulars of why the characters are doing and saying what they are when they are. You’d hope the latter would be so much the norm as not to be worthy of comment, but I find way too many aspects of way too many movies disappointingly obscure. I suppose sometimes that’s just sloppiness, but a lot of times I think it’s an intent to be mysterious, leave things open to multiple interpretations, not dumb things down, etc.
I think of this film as a slightly more professional, somewhat less obscure version of Trans. Which still doesn’t make it great, but raises it to at least OK. I was somewhat interested the whole way, but never into this movie in a big way.
Hurricane Streets is the story of a fifteen year old boy in New York, and his (loosely speaking) gang of petty criminals. Early on, they do little more than shoplift, and sell stolen property to kids even younger than themselves. But as the movie progresses, they are faced with decisions of how much deeper to get into crime, including car theft, breaking and entering, drugs, and guns. Actually murder too, but that’s accidental, so more like manslaughter.
Pretty clearly the movie wants you to side with the main character (and with the youngsters in general), to see that he’s really not a bad kid at heart, to root for him to escape his probable fate of a downhill spiral to prison or early death or at best some shadowy failed life on the margins.
And I’m somewhat on board with that, but mostly that’s not where my mind and my emotions went while watching this movie. I found these kids largely unappealing. My sympathy was more generic. Watching this caused me to reflect more on the way this kind of (very common) environment causes so much damage that it’s no wonder people are so fucked up. So it wasn’t that the movie hooked me by making me care about these kids as individuals, and then I generalized from that. Like I say, I found them more repellant than not, but I ended up thinking and caring about the general issues anyway.
So I wasn’t all that caught up in whether the main character and/or his eventual girlfriend would escape this world (they both have fantasies about having some vaguely better life with relatives in distant lands—New Mexico for him, Alaska for her). That’s like a movie that gets you to focus on whether some specific individual will get home from a war safely, when it’s war itself that’s an abomination. Regardless of whether this or that individual survives it, war’s an abomination. As is this ugly kind of environment that so many children grow up in.
One thing the film reminded me of—and I’ve talked about roughly this same thing in connection with other films—is the way evil is enabled by the approval of others, especially as concerns male-female relations.
This is epitomized by the beginning of the relationship between the main character and his fourteen year old girlfriend.
She observes him selling stolen goods to elementary school students. She’s intrigued—he’s making money, he’s calling the shots, he’s haggling, people are coming to him to get their needs met—so she comes over to chat with him. Shortly thereafter, he spots a cop and flees, taking her by the hand and bringing her along. They escape, and she clearly finds the experience exhilarating.
Shortly after that she’s with a girlfriend, and smilingly mentions she’s “met somebody.” The friend is excited for her, and at one point asks expectantly, “Is he a thug?” “Kind of,” she responds, and they ooh and ahh over her good fortune.
So this is the world we live in. Males in their formative years are made aware—consciously or not—that things like being a “thug” raise their dating market value.
As long as criminal, destructive, testosterone-laden behavior sends fourteen year old girls into a swoon, as long as it’s rewarded with what almost all guys seek most in life, there will never be a shortage of criminal, destructive, testosterone-laden behavior.
The lack of morals in general of the kids in this movie is distressing (as is the realization that to most people who speak in such terms, “morals” refers to religious-based sexual taboos and traditional gender hierarchies and such, and little else). When they are faced with the opportunity to graduate into the more adult criminal activities of guns and drugs and larger-scale stealing, some of them are all for it, and some of them balk because from a self-interest standpoint they’re concerned if they get caught they’ll have to do serious time. Zero of them seem to think that maybe there’s something, um, wrong with being a hoodlum and victimizing people.
The adults aren’t as uniformly negative as one might expect in a movie like this, but they don’t seem to have much impact even when they’re trying to do the right thing. The main character’s mother is in prison, and his father is dead. We find out later that she is in prison for killing her husband for allegedly beating her, and she’s really not presented as all that negative a figure, but obviously there’s a limit to the quality of parenting one can do from prison. He’s being raised by his grandmother, but though she’s a clearly positive figure, her influence certainly hasn’t kept him from his current delinquent path.
Possibly the most intriguing character in the movie is an adult—the girlfriend’s single father. I feel like the audience is encouraged to see him as a clear villain, but I had more of a mixed reaction to him.
His daughter resents him as unreasonably strict, in a way we gradually learn shades into abuse. It’s also claimed his wife left him over his abusiveness. And he has a decidedly creepy style. When he knows he’s got someone dead to rights, like when he catches his daughter trying to slip in late at night after sneaking off to be with her boyfriend, he adopts an exaggeratedly kind, understanding, soft tone, but with an unmistakably mocking, sarcastic edge to it, like he wants there to be more of a shock value, more of a contrast, when he lets his temper out on the person. It’s not that he thinks anyone’s really fooled by that tone; you can see her shaking when he addresses her like that. He’s just sadistically stretching out the anticipation.
On the other hand, the eventual abuse, at least what’s actually shown, is surprisingly mild. The only time he physically strikes the daughter is a single, light cuff that barely even makes contact.
But more importantly, he’s right to be alarmed at her behavior and to want to change it. He’s presented like he’s an ogre who constitutes yet another impediment to the young couple’s desires to be together and to be happy, but whatever chance she has at a decent life is diminished by her attachment to this guy and his crowd. A father should be very concerned when his fourteen year old daughter is sneaking out to be with thug wannabes. She’s well on her way to giving birth to her first child at age fifteen, with a boyfriend in some juvenile facility.
His way of handling things is wrong, but presumably he’s clueless as to how else to keep his daughter on the straight and narrow. So even though he creeps me out in some respects, I also sympathize with him, especially since I wouldn’t know what the heck to do as a single father to save her either.
So, mostly ineffectual adults, even to the extent they’re trying to be good influences. And peers, including members of the opposite sex, who implicitly or explicitly encourage one deeper and deeper into a wasted and destructive life. Not a pretty picture.
Clearly some of the issues, some of the problems Hurricane Streets got me thinking about, are important. Its way of addressing these issues didn’t win me over in a big way, but it wasn’t a total dud either. An OK movie.