"A Cautionary Tale"
What You Need To Know:
ONCE IN THE LIFE is a poetic urban melodrama that explores the issues of friendship, family, loyalty, and memory. It contains strong foul language and some strong violence, especially a torture scene that is more emotionally disturbing than physically violent. The movie’s main focus is on the moral dilemmas that play out between Mike, Torch and Tony in the abandoned apartment. Even so, humanistic despair hangs over the story’s ending. This is not really the case, of course, for those who put their hope in Jesus Christ
(H, LLL, VVV, A, DDD, MM) Humanist worldview about a life of crime & the tragedy that such a life can bring to friendship, loyalty & family; extreme foul language, many obscenities & profanities; strong violence including a brief shootout, a strong torture scene that is more emotionally disturbing than it is physically violent & man poisons drug addict’s heroin; no sex but some suggestive lines; no nudity; alcohol use; smoking, heroin use & drug dealing; and, gangsterism, kidnapping & deceit.
In ONCE IN THE LIFE, actor Laurence Fishburne films his gritty play RIFF RAFF about two ex-cons who find themselves on different sides of a drug theft. It is a cautionary tale about making bad choices and the inevitable, tragic conclusion of an individual attracted to a life of crime – once in the life, always in the life.
In the story, Fishburne plays an ex-con named 20/20 Mike, who gets his estranged, white half-brother, Torch, involved in a theft of heroin from some other gangsters. Torch, who has a drug habit himself, gets nervous during the heist. The nephew of the local crime boss, Manny Rivera, puts a death contract out on the two brothers. Mike and Torch turn to Mike’s old ex-con buddy, Tony the Tiger, for help. Mike is unaware, however, that his buddy is still “in the life” and that, in fact, Tony works for Manny. To make matters worse, Manny has ordered Tony to find Mike, get close to him and murder both brothers. Sensing Tony’s inner turmoil about killing his friend, Manny kidnaps Tony’s wife and child to make sure he completes his grisly task.
ONCE IN THE LIFE is a poetic urban melodrama that explores the issues of friendship, family, loyalty, and memory. Fishburne’s character Mike is a street-smart schemer and career criminal nicknamed for possessing intuition so keen, that it’s 20/20. He dreams of getting out of the life of crime to lead a safe, clean existence. Like his half-brother, Mike falls prey to crime’s constant allure, “just one more job and I’ll be able to quit.” Mike’s intuition fails him, however, when it comes to his friend, Tony. British actor Eamonn Walker plays Tony as an appealing and powerful, yet tortured, man with divided loyalties. Torch, meanwhile, who’s played by Titus Welliver, is immediately suspicious of this man Tony, almost to the very end. The three men meet in an abandoned apartment, where much of the movie’s poetic confrontations take place.
It seems you can’t have an urban melodrama, however, without hearing lots of strong foul language. Such is the case with ONCE IN THE LIFE. It also contains some strong violence, the worst of which is a disturbing torture scene where two thugs hang a man upside down and beat him with a wooden board, partly to get him to talk but also to have a little sadistic, macabre “fun.” The movie’s main focus, however, is on the moral dilemmas that play out between Mike, Torch and Tony in the abandoned apartment.
Thus, while ONCE IN THE LIFE merits a strong caution, even for its intended audience of adults, it is not really an “evil” movie. Even so, humanistic despair hangs over the ending of the story. Not only does the biggest criminal get away with his crimes, but there’s also no way out for the more sympathetic characters in this drama. This is not really the case for those who put our hope in God and His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. That hope leads all people out of the darkness of sin and despair.
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