Never Die Alone (2004) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Never Die Alone is a dark and unforgiving drama about a truly vile character and the lives he ruins along the way to his rightful murder. Starring and narrated by the gravely voiced rapper DMX, the film is anchored by a strong narrative structure that plays with temporal timelines and shifting attitudes towards the people trapped inside this nightmarish existence. Shot in a autumn-toned color palette and directed by frequent Spike Lee collaborator Ernest Dickerson, Never Die Alone is the cinematic treasure that DMX’s own Belly should have been.

In his best screen performance is DMX, the charismatic thug turned rap artist who flirted with movie star status only to be offset by diva behavior and drug abuse. King David (DMX) is a cunning and manipulative street hustler who returns to his hometown seeking redemption for past sins, only to find himself the victim of a brutal retribution slaying. King is killed in the first act leading to a second act that is told in flashbacks and narrated by the deceased. Just before his death David meets an aspiring reporter (David Arquette) at a neighborhood dive bar. In the aftermath of the shooting, the writer takes the dying man to the hospital, where King dies shortly after.

Not before the slain criminal has bequeathed all of his earthly possessions to the befuddled reporter, now driving around in an oversized old school car and listening to a series of autobiographical cassette tapes detailing the sordid history and despicable life of King David. The flashback scenes are the meat of the story, we learn that DMX’s character took a pound of heroin on consignment from the local kingpin only to flee the east coast with the loot to California.

In the sunshine state, the charming serpentine like David seduces a female television star only to hook her on heroin and force her to deal and eventually prostitute to feed her addiction. This harrowing relationship is repeated with at least two other female characters throughout the story, including one woman David reports to ‘love’. After she rejects his attempts at co-habitating, he switches the coke vile in her purse to heroin, before long she is hooked and turning tricks for a fix. By the film’s end it is no surprise that David has been murdered in the street for some past wrong-doing.

Never Die Alone is bold in showcasing a main character that is truly reprehensible, but credit must be given to DMX, he absolutely owns the role and his ferocious performance is chilling in its authenticity. David Arquette is an offbeat choice to get mixed up in this entangled scenario, but his outsider looks and befuddled expression are an accurate mirror of the audience’s own mixed emotions about the mysterious King David. The classy score from composer George Duke adds weight to the already thematically heavy proceedings. This was the first in a proposed series of movie adaptions to have taken place based on the writings of author Donald Goines. Due to the underwhelming box-office returns and the overwhelming negative critical reaction, a follow-up film never materialized. That leaves this hard edged modern-day crime-noir as the lone cinematic example of the new millennium gangster flick.

Director: Ernest Dickerson
Stars: DMX, David Arquette, Michael Ealy

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