Guns, Drugs and Poetry

How often do you hear poetry in a film? Particularly when it's not a love story? This adaptation of Laurence Fishburne's play "Riff Raff" has plenty of it, primarily from flashback scenes from when Fishburne's character Mike was in prison, and his bunkmate Tony had a flare for words.

Mike is out of prison, but very much not gone straight. He runs into his white junkie of a half-brother Torch, and they plan to rob a dealer. Things go bad, Torch is shot. They go in hiding. The dealer's suppliers get very concerned and want to supply their kind of justice. And the old bunkmate Tony ends up in the middle of it all.

This film is hurt from a very fractured first half. There's all this activity and characters introduced, which all ends up being very peripheral. The various relationships between the characters do eventually become clear, but it's not vague for a long time why we are seeing all this, and even in the end, it was largely energy wasted. Being based on a play, it's fairly easy to see that a lot of the first part is new in the film - many shorter scenes in a lot of locations, while the end is one long, slowly building scene.

I think there needed to be another draft of the screenplay, perhaps with a fresh perspective. There may have been this one great scene in the play - and in fact, it works great in the film too - but there is such a lack of balance, something needs to be changed.

Despite these problems, there is some great acting, and that one, ongoing, superb scene we end with. Once in the Life is a worthwhile film to watch, provided you can get through the first half of it.

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