Monday, January 18, 2010

Film Review: Blue Collar

Man, flick my bic!

Blue Collar (Directed by Paul Schrader, 1978) Blue Collar stars Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto ("The Oreo Gang" they are dubbed at one point in the film) as three workers at an Auto Plant. Pryor's Zeke is a family man with mounting bills, and a distrust of his own union, when he is paid a visit by an IRS representative who questions why Zeke has six children listed on his tax returns but only medical records for three of them ("Where is Stevie Wonder Brown?" he asks). In a wonderful scene Zeke tries to placate the tax man while his wife sneaks next door to borrow the neighbour's children to pass off as her own. Of course, the IRS rep doesn't buy it, and he's demanding back taxes of over $2000 to be paid immediately. Then, Jerry (Keitel) comes home to find his daughter's gums all cut up after she tried to fashion a homemade set of braces out of wire, because Jerry can't afford them, despite the fact he works at two jobs. Meanwhile, Smokey (Kotto) blows his salary on women, liquor and drugs.

Each of them realizes individually that they need to make a change in their lives, finance-wise, and Smokey and Zeke decide to rob their own union. Eventually, Jerry is won over to the idea, and they manage to steal the safe, one night. The safe contains a mere $600, which they have to split four-ways (Each of them gets some, another share to the man who planned it), and Zeke is put in charge of disposing of the safe and the rest of its contents. This is when Zeke comes across a very interesting by-product of their theft: a ledge detailing a list of the union's massive amounts of illegal loans. They're torn as to how to use it: Smokey wants to blackmail the union into paying them, Jerry wants to just get rid of it, while Zeke has the grandest plans: to use it to bring about changes in the union, get himself some power, create a union that will work the way it's supposed to, for the people, not against them.

Things start to go sour, though, when the union claims that $20,000 has gone missing, and Smokey realizes if they're going to pursue this, that the three can no longer be friends, before someone puts two and two together, and pins the crime on them. That means there's no one there to prevent Smokey having a work-place "accident", without Zeke or Jerry to watch his back. There's also no one to prevent Zeke from having the wool pulled over his eyes by the union's promises of power and change. And, there's no one to watch out for Jerry, the most reluctant of the bunch to participate, who now finds his family and himself in danger of goons hired by the union, brandishing shotguns.

Pryor is a major revelation, here. He was always funny, and always entertaining, but here he takes it to another level, playing Zeke as a simmering cauldron of rage and ambition. The look on his face as he realizes he sold Jerry out, but that he did it to save himself, is wonderful, as is his reaction when Jerry returns the favour. And Yaphet Kotto is awesome playing Smokey as a big, tough bad-ass who is the only one, in the end, who ever knew what was going on and how things would turn out.

Tremendous, tremendous film. If you can find a way to track it down (Its run on DVD was long ago discontinued and seems to be selling for upwards of $45 on Amazon), you should do so (I caught it on Encore Avenue, a Canadian cable channel). Paul Schrader is probably the most important American filmmaker that no one ever seems to talk about.

No comments:

Post a Comment