Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned

Writer Walter Mosely is most famous for his creation of Easy Rawlins, famously brought to life by the performance of Denzel Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress. After Rawlins, Walter Mosely created a new breed of hero in a series of short stories and later adapted for film (although HBO not the big screen)-- the violent ex-con Socrates Fortlow, played by Laurence Fishburne in Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned. Fortlow lives in current-day Watts—we first see him haunted by the nightmares of his youthful crime (killing a man and raping and killing the woman he’d loved who’d betrayed him). Trying to make amends but finding it hard with a criminal record, Socrates collects cans in exchange for quarters and finds himself riding the bus further and further away from Watts to look for work where people don’t know of his past. The problem is that the further he gets from Watts, the whiter the neighborhood is and they seem threatened by his militant demeanor (which admittedly is shocking). Socrates is constantly on the verge—he grades himself at the end of everyday and failures occur when he struck somebody but no good came of it and he gets good marks for zero violent acts or when the violence is justified. He is fiercely independent and solitary—highly moral in the way that reformed criminals try to act (so pious he angers the woman who crushes on him and offers him a job, Natalie Cole). The plot is a bit disjointed, made up by a number of short stories that find neighbors, friends, and strangers all seeking help with their lives and Socrates ends up their own private hero and avenger. It’s a far angrier work than the previous Mosely adaptation Devil in a Blue Dress and interestingly filmed by a white director this time (Micahel Apted, the famous Up Series documentarian out of England) and it retains much of its literary quality including a third-person narration instead of the friendly first person of Devil’s Easy Rawlins. “Mostly though,” as Martin and Porter’s "DVD and Video Guide 2005" promises, “it’s Fishburne’s show; you won’t be able to take your eyes off him,” (27).