For a hip-hop icon defined by his own cartoonish gangsta-pimp persona, Snoop Dogg nonetheless turns out to be the most genuine presence in The Tenants, Danny Green’s uneven adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s 1971 novel about boiling-point artistic, economic, and racial tensions. His swagger fortified by corkscrew intensity, and his joviality masking injustice-spawned fury, Snoop brings an unpredictable, shifting fearsomeness to his role as the volatile (and, one must add, thoroughly implausible) Willie Spearmint, a streetwise crook-turned-novelist who sets up shop in a dilapidated Brooklyn apartment building that’s inhabited only by a reclusive Jewish author named Harry Lesser (Dylan McDermott) and is scheduled for sale (and demolition) by its fed-up landlord Levenspiel (Seymour Cassel). Trying to rebound from his second book’s failure with his latest in-progress tome, Lesser has his hermetic writing process disrupted by the unexpected appearance of Willie, who soon intrudes on the scribe’s beloved seclusion by asking him to appraise his short stories and novel Kill Whitey: A Revenge Story. Not so surprisingly, their rapport soon develops into one of narrow-minded racial assumptions and prejudices, with Lesser condescendingly critiquing his new friend’s writing “form” (a not-so-coded reference to its “blackness”)—and later appropriating Willie’s confidence and his white girlfriend Irene (Rose Byrne)—and Willie engaging in anti-Semitic vitriol and tirades against America’s entrenched white power hierarchy. Mercifully, director Danny Green and screenwriter David Diamond do their best to avoid ostentatiously elevating either character to the lofty realm of the symbolic (corresponding black-and-white typewriters aside). Aided by a spare trumpet and piano score, Green’s controlled direction largely gets out of the way of Malamud’s caustic prose, which erects confrontations and calamity upon a foundation of intractable intolerance, and his Barton Fink-esque narrative’s stifling claustrophobia is only diminished by unnecessary ventures outside the central tenement’s graffiti-lined walls. What Green’s measured film finally lacks is more urgency, a pedantry-free conclusion and, crucially, some dramatic equilibrium. But if the latter deficiency can be partly attributed to McDermott and Byrne’s sturdy yet diminutive performances, it’s also true that The Tenants’ greatest strength and weakness is the Doggfather, who commands the morality play proceedings with such canny charisma that he ultimately leaves everyone and everything else in his ganja-laced dust.
- Millennium Films
- 97 min
- Danny Green
- David Diamond
- Dylan McDermott, Snoop Dogg, Rose Byrne, Seymour Cassel, Niki J. Crawford, Aldis Hodge, Linda Lawson
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