Ivan Dixon’s Trouble Man is one of my favorite Blaxploitation films. It works so well because the protagonist, Mr.T (played by Robert Hooks) could be the penultimate badass. Hooks’ performance and a fantastic score by Marvin Gaye, are the two engines that drive this classic film.
Mobsters on the streets of L.A hire Mr. T to find out who keeps knocking over their gambling halls. T hesitantly takes the job, which sends him spiraling down into a world out to get him, but the only thing on Mr. T’s mind is revenge. Trouble Man’s story is very similar to Shaft’s. Both protagonists are P.I’s who get hired by mobsters to enter into deals that are more complicated than T or Shaft initially expected. I prefer Trouble Man because the main character is more credible at his job. Shaft has the mouth and the badass theme song to showcase his skill sets, but T can back up his jive talk with palpable intimidation.
Put simply, Mr. T is a black Parker. A black actor played Parker in the 1968 film The Split. Jim Brown looked the part for that film, but he didn’t act the part, whereas Robert Hooks is the black Parker. He has the same cold attitude and apathetic exterior, while adhering to a strict moral code. His personality carries the film. T’s interaction with all the lesser characters, is what keeps the film entertaining. Mr. T also reminds me of the evil mirror version of Mr. T (from Rocky III, and The A-Team), Nega-T.
The film also shares many similarities with The Hunter, by Richard Stark. Two scenes in particular: the money negotiation scene in the office and the infiltration of a mob-guarded building, are straight out of The Hunter. The only aspect missing from the film is the massive Mob Organization known as The Outfit.
The film does have some problems. The other characters are pretty forgettable (the only other character I can think of that’s memorable is the Police Chief). The women in the film are utterly forgettable, and the film lacks a sex scene or any non-expositional scenes, for that matter. T’s main squeeze, Cleo, does have a stupidly funny line though: “For what? What for?” The villains are also pretty stock. The antagonists actually have a scene where they explain their entire plan (all this scene lacks to complete the full cliche is an ending with everyone laughing maniacally). The ending is also very abrupt and leaves me wanting more.
Trouble Man has a one of my favorite all time protagonists, some great sets: a seedy pool hall, a heavily guarded building and a decrepit boxing gym. It’s like a mix between Shaft, and The Hunter. Certain elements of it are lacking, but its consistent, hard-boiled nature is what keeps it one step above the rest.
Watch this trailer to get a feel for the coolness of Trouble Man:
Written By Tyler Ducheneaux
Images From Trouble Man and The Split