“Gridlock’d” (1997) is a film most people remember for featuring one of Tupac Shakur’s last starring roles (he was murdered in a shooting just two months after its completion). While Tupac’s performance as Spoon, a level-headed but drug-addicted jazz musician, is impressive and possibly his best, often overlooked are contributions of co-star Tim Roth and actor/writer/first-time director Vondie Curtis Hall. Roth stars as Stretch, Spoon’s impulsive and slightly deranged partner in addiction and music. Both Shakur and Roth inhabit their roles with a sense of authenticity, humanity, and charisma, giving their potentially pathetic characters believable chemistry and a likeable comic edge. The film kicks off when the third member of their jazz combo, Cookie, played by Thandie Newton, has an overdose, compelling the others to go on a quixotic quest seeking treatment for their addiction. Unfortunately for our protagonists the Detroit healthcare system is a bureaucratic maze seemingly designed to thwart their efforts. Odds of their success are decreased further when they’re targeted by cops and gangsters.
Detroit-born Vondie Curtis Hall does an excellent job balancing the script’s gritty realism and dark outlook with comedy and wit. Visually, the film is stylish without looking too glamorous or grim, and he keeps moments of humor and suspense well-paced. Hall is also suitably menacing as gangster D-Reper. Director John Sayles, who previously worked with Hall on the film “Passion Fish”, makes a cameo appearance as one of the cops. Hall hasn’t yet made another film on par with the quality of Gridlock’d, but he continues to do much acting and directing work for television.
As strong as Hall’s directorial debut is, it wouldn’t be as emotionally involving and memorable were it not for Tupac Shakur’s presence. Like his character in Gridlock’d, Tupac was at the time seeking a new beginning; a new creative direction. The fact that his life was tragically cut short can’t help but add a sense of poignancy and dramatic weight to his role and the entire film.