Despite being on the receiving end of some negative reviews at release, Walter Hill’s The Warriors went on to become a cult classic. I can’t really understand why.
Sure the soundtrack is iconic and it has a cool visual style, but beyond sparking nostalgia in those that saw it years ago, what exactly does The Warriors achieve?
Let’s break it down. All good films need at least an interesting story, so what kind of story does The Warriors have? Basically it’s blokes running away from other blokes. Every now and then a fight breaks out. That’s pretty much it.
To be fair, it starts off well. A revolutionary gang leader is assassinated while trying to unify rival street gangs. In the resulting chaos, the Warriors, a Coney Island based outfit, are wrongfully accused of the attack. They escape but they have to make it across New York to their home turf with every other gang in hot pursuit.
It’s an interesting premise that hints at power struggles and skullduggery, but it eventually descends into one long chase through a nocturnal New York, and it’s not even an exciting one.
So that’s the story taken care of, what about the characters? Well, pretty much everyone on-screen comes across as a complete dickhead.
The acting leader of the Warriors, Swan (Michael Beck), is painfully po-faced. He obviously has the respect of his peers but it’s hard to respect him as a viewer after he casually suggests “running the train” on a lady they encounter. Who said chivalry was dead? The fact that the lady in question is also a complete arsehole is beside the point.
But by far the most egregious character is James Remar’s Ajax. He’s a constant source of homophobic slurs and macho posturing. Also, his idea of wooing women is to aggressively grope them. Charming.
Believe it or not, these two characters are supposed to be the protagonists.
Add to that the fact that The Warriors tries to glorify gang violence. Anyone not willing to engage in acts of violence is referred to as a “wimp”. Also, women seem to exist in this film solely for the men to prey on. If a character shows no interest in a particular woman, they are sneered at and called a “faggot”. How lovely.
I’m well aware that the film isn’t meant to be taken so seriously, but when everything on-screen seems so bloody grim it’s really hard not to. It might cover itself with an almost mystical veneer and it obviously doesn’t strive for realism, but when a film spends most of its time sneering at people who don’t possess alpha male qualities, then it’s difficult not to sneer back.
In all fairness, it’s not all bad. Director Walter Hill has turned a poor story and awful characters into a mildly entertaining ninety-two minutes, which is an impressive feat to say the least. The bleak setting is visually arresting at times, and there’s a surreal quality to the whole film that was just strange enough to hold my interest. Just.
It’s just a shame that there’s nothing here for us to invest in. There are no characters worth rooting for and no plot to keep us hooked. Instead there are numerous fight scenes, admittedly quite good ones, and grown men running through parks and train stations.
Maybe I’m just missing the point. This film came out six years before I did, and I didn’t see it from start to finish until recently. I’d previously only seen snippets here and there so I was very late to the party on this one. Unfortunately I came to it without my rose-tinted spectacles.
Ultimately I’ll remember The Warriors as a film about a group of men chasing another group of men chasing a train.
Hardly worthy of its cult status…
… But I could be wrong.