The Young Savages is a film involving gang violence and ultimately trying to decide how this should be handled. When the culprits are minors it can muddy the waters. Do they know what they were doing and should be given the full punishment or should they be let off easy? It’s always a big debate even in modern settings as these kinds of things tend to keep on going. The film certainly doesn’t cop out as it has Hank pick a side, but did he pick the right one?
The movie starts with 3 gang members walking up to a blind kid who was playing his harmonica and stabbing him to death. They run out of there but the cops quickly pick them up. Hank is put in charge as the main prosecutor and aims to go for the death penalty on these guys. He has to make sure he has an airtight case though because two of them are minors and they allege that the blind kid had a knife so they were acting in defense. He’ll have to get to the bottom of this but there are parties on both sides putting pressure on him.
Hank’s boss wants a conviction here to help him when running for mayor. He feels that it will look really good. You have gangs from Irish and Puerto Rican groups who of course both want him to one way or the other. They even send people to his home to intimidate his wife as well as to beat him up. Both sides continue to grow more and more aggressive with their tactics and at the end of the day Hank has to decide what to do.
There are a number of twists here both involving the victim as well as the 3 murderers. This all leads up to the big court case that the film ends off with. I suppose I won’t say which side Hank ultimately helps out but here are the crucial facts. The victim was actually a high ranking member of the opposing gang. He hadn’t tried attacking or anything at this point but this was more about revenge than anything else. For the 3 murderers, one of them was pretty much evil from the jump. Another one isn’t all that intelligent and is easily manipulated by the other one. Then the third is someone who doesn’t like being in a gang and abusing people like this but does it to stay cool with the group. In the end he didn’t actually stab the kid but he didn’t try to stop it either so he was an accessory at bare minimum.
All 3 of these kids are old enough where they are completely responsible for what they are doing. You can give a pass to the third kid for not being mentally sane enough to be responsible. Sending him for treatment and rehabilitation is fine. The other two are certainly guilty though. One of them wanting to fit in with the crowd to this extent but not wanting to do it is immaterial. If you are going along with a gang and doing all of this then you absolutely have to be held accountable for that.
There should be major jail time for that. It also doesn’t matter that the victim was a gang member because then you’re just being a complete vigilante at that point. You can’t allow people to just go around murdering others like that whether the revenge is believed to be justified or not. I don’t believe there should be a true defense for either of those two.
The court scene to close things off is naturally pretty fun. The characters may not be going all out in this case so it turns into a pretty unique proceeding but I always like courtroom environments. They just make for very engaging scenes and set things off for a solid climax. In general the writing here was pretty solid. There are a whole lot of characters and motivations to go through but the movie never drags on with this. At most the ending may just be annoying depending on whose side you’re on. A big takeaway here is definitely that the area was super dangerous at this point in time. The police basically have to look the other way with the gangs because they are so extensive and have a lot of power.
Hank is a solid main character. You have to give him a lot of credit for always trying his best to find out the answers. Both sides accuse him a lot of just being someone who wants to see his version of the story but you don’t get that impression. Hank is doing his best to check every avenue out but it doesn’t help that the whole town is playing hardball. Nobody ever gives him a straight answer and then you have both gangs trying intimidation tactics on him. If anything it’s impressive that Hank made it so far particularly since he had 0 support. He did well in the Subway fight as well.
Meanwhile his wife Karin was doing her best to ridicule him and embarrass them at public parties. It was definitely not a great look. It took a while for her to start acting reasonably. For most of the film she’s just a little too exaggerated. It’s reasonable to take the other position that no matter what since the kids are minor they shouldn’t be seriously punished for murdering people or doing any kind of crime but you need to be prepared to have some real conversations about it rather than just making fun the whole time.
Overall, The Young Savages is a solid film. I’d say whether or not you agree with Hank’s decision and actions at the end of the film, he did do a good job of gathering a lot of intel. He also took a lot of serious risks such as visiting the turf of both gangs without any true backup. He came close to dying a few times as well. He says he grew up in the neighborhood and you believe it since the guy is plenty tough. In the background of the film you also get the impression that none of the characters here have had an easy time of things. They’ve been through a lot and will continue to do so while the gangs control the area instead of the police.