Sugar Hill Leon Ichaso

Originally released in 1993, Sugar Hill is a refreshing departure from the urban crime drama mould for several reasons. The first and foremost reason is the depth of the characters, particularly the impressive range shown by Wesley Snipes in his portrayal of Roemello Skuggs, a Harlem drug dealer who tries to renounce his sordid life and start over with new love Melissa (Theresa Randle). Although there are several graphic scenes, they are by no means gratuitous. Rather they exist to advance the story, which essentially deals with its characters. A disturbing flashback scene, for instance, shows Roemello and older brother Raynathan (Michael Wright) witnessing their mother die of a heroin overdose, only to end up pushing the drug as adults. Wright is convincing as Ray, the living embodiment of Roemello's grim present and, incidentally, everything he wishes to escape. As Roemello strives to keep the peace between rival factions, Ray becomes increasingly mired in a downward spiral. The moral distance between the two brothers is seen in their diametrically opposed views of their estranged, drug-addicted father, powerfully played by Clarence Williams III. The love story, on the other hand, comes across as contrived, as there is no real connection between Roemello and Melissa. The credibility of the relationship is also hindered by the long lapses between Melissa's appearances. Still, Randle does an admirable job, given her limited screen time. From the beginning, director Leon Ichaso builds the story with a painstaking attention to detail that affords rich character development at the expense of a slow pace. Although the film never achieves the momentum we expect, our patience is rewarded by a captivating succession of events that eventually lead to an electrifying climax. Sugar Hill offers a different twist on a genre plagued by formulaic writing and execution, and remains as powerful and provocative as it was a decade ago. Extras: Featurette and theatrical trailer. (Twentieth Century Fox)