Just before disappearing into jail in 2010, Snipes made Gallowwalkers, about a cursed gunslinger whose shooting victims turn into zombies; its poster tagline ‘Live by the gun. Die by the gun. Come back for more’ tells you all you need to know.
It is easy to write-off (pun intended) Snipes but the actor has some pretty decent performances in his filmography that deserve celebrating, so let’s take a look at six of Snipes’ best roles.
Snipes got the first of two nominations for MTV Movie Award for Best Villain (hey this is Wesley Snipes we’re talking about, not Daniel Day-Lewis) for his portrayal of drug lord Nino Brown in Mario Van Peebles’ directorial debut New Jack City. Charting the rise of crack cocaine gangs in the late 1980s, Snipes’ Nino is a smart but arrogant antagonist who fancies himself as a modern-day Robin Hood, but whose megalomania and ruthlessness turn him into more of a Scarface figure (indeed, at one point, Nino and his friends are shown watching the Al Pacino film).
2) Jungle Fever (1991)
In Spike Lee’s blistering exploration of the difficulties of interracial relationships, Snipes plays the unforgettably-named Flipper Purify, a married black architect who embarks on an affair with his Italian-American secretary Angie (Annabella Sciorra). The couple find themselves ignored in a restaurant and when he complains, Flipper is openly berated about his white girlfriend by an African-America waitress; meanwhile Angie is beaten by her father when he finds out she is dating a black man. While it’s not clear whether Flipper and Angie’s relationship would ever have survived, the racial tensions of New York City in the early 1990s eventually ensure that it doesn’t.
Jungle Fever is also known for the being the film that gave Samuel L. Jackson his breakout role, playing Snipes’ crack-addict brother Gator, a performance that garnered Jackson a Best Supporting Actor award at that year’s Cannes Film Festival.
3) Passenger 57 (1992)
In one of the better Die Hard clones, Snipes plays John Cutter, a cop-turned-airline security expert who finds himself pressed back into service when the FBI decide that the best way to transport infamous international terrorist and serial hijacker Charles Rane to trial is on a passenger plane. Naturally, Rane escapes, and thanks to a well-timed toilet trip, Cutter is the only person who can save the day.
Though it’s starey scary Bruce Payne as sadistic hijacker Rane who arguably steals the show, real-life martial artist Snipes makes for a convincing tough guy hero, and it’s this film that helped launched his career in the action movie genre. Just mind you don’t take Cutter’s advice at the roulette table.
Gallowwalkers is out on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday the 5th of May.