Donald Goines was black crime fiction's answer to Jim Thompson, a bleak pulp master whose gritty work resonates with an authenticity derived in no small part from its creator's personal occupation of the skuzzy milieu he chronicled. Goines' grim universe is brought to vivid life by director Ernest Dickerson, screenwriter James Gibson, and Requiem For A Dream cinematographer Matthew Libatique in Never Die Alone, a sick neo-noir that plunges into the void without blinking.
One singularly nasty piece of work, the film stars DMX as a fearlessly unsympathetic drug dealer who takes pride in getting the women he's involved with strung out on cocaine and heroin so he can control them. After an extended stint on the West Coast attending to the hard-drug needs of entertainment professionals, he travels back to the East Coast to make amends and seek redemption. David Arquette co-stars as a slumming writer and unlikely heir who discovers and listens to DMX's audio diary, which prompts the flashbacks that make up much of the film.
DMX has appeared in a number of films, but Never Die Alone marks his arrival as a full-fledged movie star. Dickerson's 1992 directorial debut, Juice, introduced the film world to Tupac Shakur in a scene-stealing villainous role. It's fitting, then, that DMXwho, like most tormented thugs, worships unabashedly at the Church Of 2Pacshould also make his cinematic breakthrough under Dickerson's direction.
One of the most disturbing American films since Requiem For A Dream, Never Die Alone has dirty '70s atmosphere to spare: It employs a clear-eyed cross between film-noir stylization and documentary-like verisimilitude. Gangsta rap and blaxploitation's transgressive power both come largely from getting audiences to root for the bad guy, to live out their most outrageous tough-guy fantasies from a comfortable distance. Though steeped in both subgenres, Never Die Alone subverts that vicarious enjoyment by showing violence and abuse so unrelentingly ugly that only a sadist could derive the least bit of pleasure from it.