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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Never Die Alone
Never Die Alone
Fox // R // July 13, 2004
List Price: $27.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Walker | posted July 12, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Film:
Donald Goines was a baaaaad man. A middle-class kid who turned his back on a respectable life in favor of crime on the tough streets of Detroit's ghetto, Goines tried his hand at pimping, running numbers and hustling dope, all the while nursing a heroin monkey on his back. In 1965, during one of his several stretches in prison, he made his first failed attempt at writing. It wasn't until 1969 that a 33-year-old Goines, doing time for larceny, would write his first published book, Whoreson.

Whoreson was published by Holloway House in 1972, and over the next two years Goines would churn out an astounding 15 novels—all bestsellers—his creative fire no doubt fueled by his burning heroin addiction. Writing from firsthand experience, Goines crafted such hardboiled tales as Inner City Hoodlum, Black Gangster and Dopefiend —brutal, lurid tales brimming with the profane language of the streets.

Despite the underground popularity of Goines' work, which includes loyal readers in the worlds of hip-hop, Europe and prison, he remains relatively unknown in mainstream literary circles. And in the 30 years since his brutal murder in what has long been suspected to be a dope deal gone bad, Goines' collection of urban pulp thrillers has been largely ignored by Hollywood. Until now.

Never Die Alone is the second book by Goines to be translated to film—the first being the abysmal direct-to-video adaptation of Crime Partners —and the first to make it to the big screen. Rapper-turned-actor DMX stars as King David, a morally bankrupt dope dealer who returns to New York after 10 years to make amends for his past sins. But before David can redeem himself, he is attacked in the streets and mortally wounded. Aspiring writer Paul (David Arquette) witnesses the attack on David, who begs the man to not let him die alone. As a reward for staying at his side while he dies, David leaves all his worldly possession to Paul, including audiotapes of the gangster recounting the last decade of his life in crime. Paul is shocked and fascinated by what he hears on the tapes, unremorseful confessions of a man with no regard for human life—a man who, Paul will come to believe, deserved to die for what he did.

The greatest challenge of anyone adapting a Donald Goines novel to film is remaining true to the author's unrelentingly violent depiction of life in the ghetto. A straightforward cinematic interpretation of certain Goines novels would make Scarface look like Disney family fare. Amazingly, Never Die Alone makes the transition to film with most of its hardcore edge intact. To their credit, director Ernest Dickerson and first-time screenwriter James Gibson don't water down the King David character in an attempt to make him more sympathetic. In both the book and the film, he is a ruthless sociopath—a man who decides to get his lover strung out on heroin when she mocks him—and by the end of both, his death seems only just.

Shying away from the inept, low-budget trappings that define most of the contemporary "urban" thrillers lining the shelves at video stores, Never Die Alone is a film that aspires to be more. And in many regards, it succeeds. Rather than churning out something akin to the direct-to-video crap you see starring Master P or Snoop Dogg, Dickerson has crafted a taut, neo-noir tale laced with a contemporary blaxploitation aesthetic. Building on Goines' edgy narrative that tracks three intersecting storylines as well as King David's first-person recounting of his misdeeds, Never Die Alone employs such popular noir conventions as voice-over narration and flashbacks within flashbacks—conventions that can easily fail or seem contrived in less assured hands. Dickerson, however, manages to pull off what filmmakers like Abel Ferrara (King of New York) have attempted but failed—an exploitative crime flick done as an art film. The result is stylish B-movie akin to the works of Anthony Mann and Sam Fuller, that at the same time draws inspiration from the films of Jean Pierre Melville (La Cercle Rouge) and Kinji Fukasaku (Battles Without Honor or Humanity).

The biggest weakness of Never Die Alone is DMX. Ten years ago, Lawrence Fishburne would have been perfect for King David. Today, Don Cheadle is best suited for the role. Instead, DMX gives it his best shot, but he's still just a rapper playing at being an actor. Fortunately, DMX's performance is not terrible, and is balanced out by Dickerson's keen vision, making Never Die Alone a stylish, entertaining tale of revenge and retribution.


When you stop and look at the number of "urban" action films released direct-to-video, it can get a little overwhelming. But more important than that, it can get downright frustrating, since a vast majority of these films are just plain terrible. Never Die Alone is head and shoulders above all the other product being peddled out there. And where many of these urban action films have been made by filmmakers without even the most rudimentary cinematic skills, it is clear that director Ernest Dickerson knows what he's doing. All of this is just a long-winded way of saying Never Die Alone is well-worth watching. The movie has been released as a two-sided disc, one side featuring 1:33:1 full screen presentation, and the other side featuring a 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen picture. Both transfers look good, but if the picture seems grainy or the colors washed out, don't be alarmed – this is how the movies is supposed to look. Shot on Super 16 millimeter, the picture has a naturally grainy quality, and the lighting design often creates a hazy, dream-like tone.

Sound: Never Die Alone is presented in 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound. The sound transfer is solid, helping to enhance the old school R&B meets rap soundtrack. Personally, I could do with a little less of the rap, but at least the sound is good.

Extras: As part of a not-too-impressive selection of bonus materials, Never Die Alone comes complete with an audio commentary by director Ernest Dickerson, screenwriter James Gibson, and star DMX. This is arguably one of the worst commentary tracks I've ever heard, with protracted bits of silence, and DMX rambling about absolutely nothing. To be 100%, I couldn't bring myself to listen to the whole track. About thirty minutes into the movie I turned it off, vowing to return later. But as long as there is laundry to do or paint to watch dry, I'll find a reason to never finish listening to the commentary track for Never Die Alone. As for the other bonus material, it doesn't fare much better. A handful of deleted scenes (with optional commentary by Dickerson and Gibson) make for a momentary diversion, but aren't screaming to be watched. Likewise, the "making of" featurette – which runs less than six minutes – does nothing to enhance the film. To make matters worse, the deleted scenes and featurette are not on both sides of the disc.

David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]
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