Once in the Life | EW.com

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Once in the LifeThere are highly celebrated playwrights -- and more screenwriters than you could shake a boom mic at -- who have never displayed the nimble ferocity of...Once in the LifeDrama, Mystery and ThrillerPT107MRThere are highly celebrated playwrights -- and more screenwriters than you could shake a boom mic at -- who have never displayed the nimble ferocity of...2000-11-10William ForsytheMichelle RodriguezEamonn WalkerWilliam Forsythe, Michelle Rodriguez, Eamonn WalkerLions Gate Films
Laurence Fishburne, Once in the Life

(Gene Paige)

B

Once in the Life

Genre: Drama, Mystery and Thriller; Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Titus Welliver, William Forsythe, Michelle Rodriguez, Eamonn Walker; Director: Laurence Fishburne; Author: Laurence Fishburne; Producer (group): Shooting Gallery; Release Date Limited: 10/27/2000; Runtime (in minutes): 107; MPAA Rating: R; Distributor: Lions Gate Films

There are highly celebrated playwrights – and more screenwriters than you could shake a boom mic at – who have never displayed the nimble ferocity of language that Laurence Fishburne does in Once in the Life. Fishburne wrote and directed this New York set, ”three lowlifes stuck in a tenement hideout” underworld movie, based on his 1995 Off Broadway play ”Riff Raff,” and though the visual style is merely functional, his dialogue has a fiery urban scuzz eloquence.

The movie, despite some awkward, token violence (it’s about a drug theft gone awry), is talky in the best sense: The characters razz, deceive, and come clean with each other, shedding protective layers one insult and memory at a time.

The slangy anecdotal monologues in ”Once in the Life” may have sounded more at home on stage, but they’re still actors’ candy, and the film showcases a trio of terrific performances. Fishburne has a blustery high time as 20/20 Mike, an overly impulsive hustler who claims to have eyes in the back of his head (but who can barely see what’s right in front of him), and Titus Welliver, as Mike’s junkie half brother, is like a testy hippie reptile in a cold sweat.

The standout, however, is Oz’s Eamonn Walker as Tony, Mike’s old cellmate, who now has to execute him. Tony has moist, brother love eyes and a heart of purest gunmetal, and when Walker fuses these two sides, you’re seeing gangster ruthlessness with all the glamour singed away.