UK DVD release date:
7th July 2003
Running time: 91 mins
Director: Jack Hill
Starring: Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert DoQui
Genre: Drama, Blaxploitation
There have been many a successful and enjoyable partnering of director and actor, Martin Scorsese – Robert De Niro, Steven Soderbergh – George Clooney, Paul Greengrass – Matt Damon to name but a few of the better known combos. There are none better than the combination of director Jack Hill and star Pam Grier.
Coffy (Grier) is an inner city nurse who, when her sister is hospitialised from a drug overdose, and her police officer friend is savagely beaten decides to take matters into her own hands and reclaim the streets from the dealers and their shadowy money men.
Everything about Coffy is what film directors today strive to be able to achieve. The instant impression maker is the score, which is so wonderfully cool and easy that it screams of an era that fans of the Elmore Leonard school of low level pulp crime wish they could bury themselves in on a daily basis. The jazz and Motown pieces of the film were easily sourced, this was the decade of accessible black artists and as such many major collaborations were born out of the ability to create opportunities rather than waiting for them to be afforded to you. Visually the colour palette of the film can only be described as rich and tasty. Hill knows how to shoot women, his ability to make them look both sensual and dangerous is something that feel directors have managed to master. Grier, always possesses these qualities on screen, but they’re never better showcased than when Hill’s behind the lens. Whether it’s taking down the dealer, the Italians or infiltrating King George’s stable of ladies she is always the mistress of the camera with a screen presence that had never been seen before for a female lead. Her performance is also wonderful. Over the years she’s been unfortunate to appear in some less than stellar pieces of work but in Coffy she has the vehicle to bring her A game. Her transformation from carrying, compassionate nurse to stone cold wrecking ball of the corrupt and cocaine fuelled is faultless and is comparable with that of vigilantes Bronson (Death Wish) and Washington (Man on Fire) which is no mean feat as both men have a genuine mean streak in their performances.
Hill’s supporting cast is extremely strong, which is sometimes a failing of the Blaxploitation movement, and in particular Booker Bradshaw (as Howard Brunswick) is mesmerising as he shows several sides to a complex character who’s transformation from one to another is, like Grier’s, expertly handled and without fault. The stand out performance, if you can snatch the prize from Grier, belongs to Robert DoQui who as King George not only delivers a fantastically entertaining and highly comedic. His performance is a balanced mixture of stereotypical pimp and a send up of fellow Blaxploitation performer Rudy Ray Moore without falling off the “reality” of the film and into complete farce. His comedic timing is a welcome release from what could be a difficult storyline, Blaxploitation is, afterall, entertainment and it’s characters like King George and performers like Robert DoQui that allow the “straight men” like Booker and Pam to do their jobs without the fear of delivering a miserable movie.
The dialogue, like the score and comedic performers, is crucial to a Blaxploitation film. These films were made specifically for their target audience. Coffy, being of a larger budget is somewhat more accessible even mainstream in comparison to Dolemite, The Disco Godfather or Cotton Comes to Harlem but is as wonderfully and colourfully written as anything you’d find in the Grindhouse cinema’s on 110th street at the time. Dialogue like this is the reason that Out of Sight was so cool, it’s the tone that writers like David Mamet, Quentin Tarantino, Scott Frank and Elmore Leonard all set as their finishing line (whether it’s conscious or now) they all want to be cool and there’s nothing cooler than a Pam Grier movie directed by Jack Hill. Throughout there are literally hundreds of quotable lines that will make you roar with laughter or simply marvel at how effortlessly cool they sound as they trip from the lips of the actors.
Jack Hill the writer has handed Jack Hill the director a perfectly worded script, his vision is so clear and focused and effortless that his role as director is almost automatic. Like The Switchblade Sisters, Hill pieces together an outstanding piece of genre cinema that improves over the years. Both films are over thirty years old, both films have heavily influenced those that have followed and in following and imitating all that has happened is that quality of these films have been highlighted even more.
There are few better ways to spend ninety one minutes, granted there are a couple of holes in the narrative that you’ll immediately forgive but they are there. They do not matter! Coffy is the grandmamma of the vendetta feature that is so smooth you’d swear it was stitched from silk. A beautiful, cool and effortlessly trendy masterpiece.