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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Mo' Better Blues


Starring: Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, Robin Harris, Joie Lee and Bill Nunn
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
RRP: £14.99


Certificate: 18
Release Date: 11 September 2017

Since his debut film, She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee has used his position as writer and director to look at the experience of black Americans. Sometimes the films are overtly about race and sometimes there are more personal reasons to tell a story. In the case of Mo’ Better Blues (1990. 2 hr, 09 min, 18 sec) I think it unlikely that it is a coincidence that Spike's father, William Lee, was a respected musician and composer.

The story is about choices and consequences and tells the story of Bleek Gilliam (Denzil Washington). When we first meet Bleek he is a young kid growing up in a middleclass area. Some of his friends come around to get him to come out, but Bleek's mother makes him practice his trumpet, something which the young Bleek is less than enthusiastic about. I loved Zakee Howze’s portrayal of the young Bleek as he does an uncanny impersonation of how Washington speaks.

We skip forward a couple of decades and the reluctant child has grown into a successful jazz trumpeter, with his own band. As an adult he lives for his music and little else. He likes women and has two girlfriends Indego (Joie Lee) and Clarke (Cynda Williams) which he keeps apart. Women are not his focus and their main attraction is not love but sex, the act of feeling Mo’ Better.

Success does bring its problems. His manager, Giant (Spike Lee) is frankly not only rubbish at his job, signing the band into a contract when they could be earning more money, but is also an inveterate gambler and not a very good one. Dissent from within the band comes in the form of Shadow Henderson (Wesley Snipes) a talented saxophone player, but one whose long solos threaten to outshine Bleek’s trumpet playing.

Things come to a head in almost all aspects of Bleek’s life when his girlfriends discover the others existence and Giant finally spends more than he has, leading to threats on his life. In a short time, everything which Bleek has worked towards is threatened and destroyed the choices he makes.

Jones does not appear to view Bleek with any sort of false sentimentality and bookends the film with essentially the same scene, the rigidity of the consequence of the rigidity of the first choice we have seen played out in Bleek’s life. But his choice to allow his own child to play is a hope that his children will not take a similar path to their father.

There is a caveat to the general good view of the film and that is it would be better if you liked jazz, as there is a lot of it in the film. I am not a fan of the sort of free floating jazz that spends half an hour running around the scales and changing time signatures. Generally they interest me only a little less than listening to a twenty-minute drum solo. That said, the soundtrack by the Brandford Marsalis Quartet and Terence Blanchard fits the mood of the film perfectly.

The performances of the cast are strong, and the film boasts cameos from the likes of Samuel L Jackson, Branford Marsalis as well as Lee’s sister and father.

The film comes with only a few extras. You get production notes the original trailer and text covering the cast and filmmakres (sic).


Charles Packer

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