It's no secret that politics is a dirty game, but Marshall Curry's Street Fight (2005) offers us front row seats as a reminder. Our two combatants, Cory Booker and Sharpe James, were both running for mayor of Newark, New Jersey in 2002; unfortunately for the 32 year-old Booker, his opponent held the position for the past 16 years. Needless to say, James ("The Real Deal", seen above) earned Newark's trust over the years; at least enough to grant himself numerous pay raises while the city's crime rates remained high...and if that weren't enough, his "second job" as a senator pushed James' salary closer to $300K. Booker saw this as one problem of many, so the young community activist and City Council member pushed for change from the ground up. Shaking hands, kissing babies and going door-to-door through the city, Booker was eager to sway the somewhat reluctant voters.
Those unfamiliar with Booker's campaign should notice two things throughout Street Fight: he makes a great underdog, but the story is consistently one-sided. To the film's credit, this "problem" proves to be unavoidable as the plot thickens. As the countdown to the election draws near, director Marshall Curry (also serving as cameraman) is consistently blocked from filming Sharpe James and harassed by his supporters. Curry is obviously "from the other side", but he's illegally stopped at almost every turn; in an early scene, he's prevented from going door-to-door in an apartment complex, even though James' team was raising support there a short time earlier.
The blows get much heavier from here on out: local businesses backing Booker are shut down, supportive city workers are promptly demoted and Booker's campaign signs are routinely destroyed by the opposing team. In an interesting twist later on, the mud-slinging develops into racial slurs thrown by James and his team---especially surprising, since both candidates are black.
Street Fight is aptly named; as the days count down, "fair play" is thrown out the window and lands hard on the concrete below. Still, the opposing sides are clearly drawn: Booker, a Stanford and Yale graduate, moved into Newark's Brick Towers housing project four years before the race, encouraging fellow tenants to rally for improved living conditions. It's obvious that he cares for those less fortunate, yet he's still participating in a dirty, ugly battle that doesn't guarantee victory. Though Stret Fight's dramatic climax isn't exactly uplifting in nature, a surprising last-minute announcement ensures that Booker's efforts didn't go unrewarded. This is a heated battle from start to finish, ensuring that the journey is every bit as compelling as its destination.
Presented on DVD by Genius Entertainment, Street Fight plays well on the small screen. The main feature is paired with a solid technical presentation, but only a small taste of bonus material. It's perhaps the only disappointment found in an otherwise well-rounded release, but that certainly shouldn't keep any interested parties from tracking this one down.
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Street Fight looks surprisingly good from start to finish. The modest budget and natural lighting conditions translate fairly well to DVD, boasting a natural color palette and decent black levels. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and gets the job done; there obviously isn't much in the way of dynamics here, but the dialogue and music comes through clearly. Unfortunately, no subtitles or Closed Captioning options are included.
In a sea of small print and button pushing, it's refreshing to see another straightforward and honest look at the underbelly of American politics. It's this directness that keeps Marshall Curry's Street Fight interesting and exciting from start to finish, giving viewers a front row seat of an underdog's campaign against a seemingly fixed system. This is an entirely local affair, yet it paints a much broader picture---and even though Street Fight almost ends on a downbeat, the film's conclusion reminds us that hard work pays dividends. Genius Entertainment's DVD package presents the film with a solid technical presentation, though the bonus features could've used a bit more attention. Nevertheless, Street Fight is a film worthy of its accolades and certainly worth hunting down. Firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.