StoryLaurence Fishburne established himself as one of the most compelling actors making films today with simmering performances that command the screen. With Once in the Life, a tale of small-time crooks on the run from a heist gone wrong, he adds screenwriter and director to his resumé. Adapted by the director from his stage play Riff Raff, he makes himself a triple threat as he also stars as 20/20 Mike, a small-time street hustler who cooks up a drug rip-off with his estranged half-brother Torch (Titus Welliver, reprising his stage role). When simple robbery turns into a fatal bloodbath they hide out in a claustrophobic rat hole and wait for Mike's buddy Tony the Tiger (the intense Eamonn Walker of HBO's cable series Oz). Tony is "out of the life," or so he says. Mike is too trusting to remember the truism that gives the film its title: "Once in the life, always in the life."
The heart of the film remains with these three in the dark, dingy hideout. We've seen this portrait of family, friends, and honor torn asunder by the criminal life before, and the overly talky picture never shakes its insular theatrical origins, but Fishburne pulls out some beautiful performances, especially his own mercurial turn as Mike. He delivers a fierce and exhilarating performance, and Walker burns as his trusted former cellmate, his glowing eyes and glowering expression giving his tortured struggle a tragic dimension. --Sean Axmaker
|Michael Paul Chan||Buddha|
|Paul Calderon||Manny Rivera|
|Laurence Fishburne||20/20 Mike|
|Sue Costello||Sgt. Kneeley|
|Nick Chinlund||Mike Murphy|