Street Fight movie poster
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Street Fight Movie Review

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Street Fight, a 2006 Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature, is an engaging and startling look at modern politics. The movie revolves around two Democratic mayoral candidates, newcomer Cory Booker and incumbent mayor Sharpe James, in the 2002 Newark, New Jersey elections. While the movie clearly favors young and vocal Booker, you can hardly blame director Marshall Curry for being biased - after all, every time he tries to film Sharpe, the mayor sends police after him to confiscate his camera.

Street Fight, as its title suggests, is a shocking, gripping struggle between two men in a city with one of the highest poverty levels and crime rates. While certainly more went on than what is shown in this documentary, the movie feels like a battle between good and evil. Sharpe, Newark's longtime mayor, resorts to ruthless and absolutely sleazy tactics to disrupt his opponent's campaign, from blatantly shutting down businesses where Booker is to speak at to refusing to allow the press to video tape him during hid speeches to using police officers as his personal security force to associating Booker with racist organizations and people. Both Sharpe and Booker are black.

The film succeeds on many levels, the first of which being that Booker, as he is portrayed here, is a meaningful, energetic and young politician who still seems to be idealistic and associates well with his constituents. Curry chronicles Booker's ups and downs in the three or four months leading up to the election; the movie is at times uplifting and at times frustrating as hell. Whenever Booker makes an advance, Sharpe does something to shoot him down, oftentimes in the sleaziest of tactics you wouldn't think would happen in today's politics, at least at the mayoral level.

There is no specific sophistication to the movie in terms of its delivery, but that is just fine because the two candidates provide such a colorful story themselves. The documentary really is about a battle, but the fighting is done (mostly) in words, not with fists or knives or guns.

Curry also does a good job of getting into the middle of things. With exception to one or two meetings, it seems as though he was given full access to Booker's campaign and was allowed to go behind the scenes nearly all the time. On the flipside, he is shown very little of Sharpe's campaign, but that in itself is enough to make a movie right there. If his footage of Sharpe's cops trying to grab his camera or of Sharpe's campaign leader speaking candidly to the director about how stupid Sharpe is being in regards to the press or of Sharpe yelling at protestors had made it onto TV before the 2002 election, you have to wonder just how much of a landslide the election would have been in Booker's favor. The footage of Sharpe is startling at times.

Street Fight is an excellent documentary that will appeal to anyone who even has a remote interest in politics (and hopefully that should be every single one of you). It is a candid look at the lengths candidates will go to to win, even when they are on the same end of the political spectrum, the same race and have a similar background.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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