Forest Whitaker demonstrates mastery in his director's bow of the melodramatic "Strapped," which intros a wise young newcomer, Bokeem Woodbine, in the role of a decent, striving black youth bound by his own honor. With 14 kids killed by guns every day across the country, it's not an easy telefilm to watch -- but it's not easy to look away.

Forest Whitaker demonstrates mastery in his director’s bow of the melodramatic “Strapped,” which intros a wise young newcomer, Bokeem Woodbine, in the role of a decent, striving black youth bound by his own honor. With 14 kids killed by guns every day across the country, it’s not an easy telefilm to watch — but it’s not easy to look away.

A forceful stare at a struggling black Brooklyn community, writer

Dena Kleiman’s teleplay says plenty and implies even more.

Determinedly straight Diquan (Woodbine) has already got trouble, what with pregnant girlfriend Latisha (Kia Joy Goodwin) picked up for selling crack, and he sets himself up for more when he stashes a pistol taken from a juve who’s blown away a boy.

To make matters worse, Diquan’s pal Bamboo (Fredro) dealsanything illegal, particularly mint guns; he snorts at Diquan for playing it straight by working as a Manhattan messenger while local gun smuggler Ben (Craig Wasson) bursts with money.

White cop McRae (Michael Biehn), tracking Diquan to find out the source of hot new guns, promises he’ll work a deal to get Latisha off if Diquan agrees to finger Ben.

Nellie Nugiel’s production reeks with authenticity as well as meller as Larry Banks’ prowling camera pokes into the lives of Diquan, his mother (Starletta Dupois), street gangs, and Latisha’s sad story.

Diquan sums it up in a telltale sequence as he points out to McCrae how little the white man knows about Diquan’s world and what Diquan really thinks.

The cast is superior, and Whitaker’s and Kleiman’s shrewd emphases on guns and sad acceptances give the telefilm much of its sting. Joe Romano’s music is in tune with the story, but the sound levels are uneven, apparently for shock effect. It isn’t necessary.

Hbo Showcase Strapped

(Sat. (21), 8-10 p.m., HBO)

Production

Filmed in N.Y.C. by Osiris Films and HBO Showcase. Exec producers, Michael Apted, Robert O'Connor and (for HBO Showcase), Colin Callender; producer, Nellie Nugiel; director, Forest Whitaker; writer, Dena Kleiman.

Crew

Camera, Larry Banks; editor, Glenn Morgan; production designer, Howard Cummings; sound, Felipe Borrero; music, Joe Romano; additional music, Kenn Whitaker.

Cast

Cast: Bokeem Woodbine, Kia Joy Goodwin, Michael Biehn, Fredro, Craig Wasson, Starletta Dupois, Willie James Stiggers Jr., Jermaine Hopkins, Chi Ali, Mike Farley, Hugh I. Hurd, Anthony Lozama, David Robinson, Mary Hedahl, Marcella Lowery, Joseph Gimpel, Jermaine Hopkins bka "Huggy," Nzingha, Dorothi Fox, Monie Love, Tanganyika, Don Blakely, Jay Devlin, Marshall Maurice Mitchell, Wendell Pierce, Yul Vasquez, Samuel E. Wright, Jaime Tirelli, Isaiah Washington, Paul McCrane, Edward Lewis, Dynamite, Evan Jermaine Simmons, Yoyo, Mohandas Deweese, Jack O'Connell, Dina Meyer, Carmel Forte, Andres G. (Crazy Drayz) Weston, Willie "Skoob" Hines, Tonya Pinkins, Angela Jones, Busta Rhymes, Raymond Moy, Xiandia O. Stewart, Samaria Graham, John Dibenedetto, Malachy Cleary, Joe Pentangelo, Shicon Jordan, John Alexander Mackay, Kumhee Hong, Stick Baines.
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