HTF REVIEW: "Paid In Full" (with screenshots)

Ronald Epstein

Jul 3, 1997
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Real Name
Ronald Epstein

Paid In Full

Studio: Dimension
Year: 2002
Rated: R
Film Length: 98 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English

The American Dream... Their way

Paid In Full is one of those films that
probably received little recognition during its
theatrical run thanks to lack of of advertising
or publicity. Thankfully, the DVD format gives
life to these type of movies, and its my hope that
through this review I can convince some of you to
give this film a look.

Paid in Full is the feature film debut for
director Charles Stone III (who gave us Drumline
and those memorable Budweiser "Whassup" ads) and is
based on the true stories of famous drug lords (Alpo,
A.Z. and Rich Porter) during that era of ever-growing
cocaine addiction. The setting is the heart of Harlem
during the late 80s when its community was sharply
divided by the rich and powerful vs. the low lifes.

Ace (Wood Harris) is a young man who lives and works
in the well known block of Harlem. He works at a dry
cleaners, and watches from the store window as his
friends drive by in fancy cars wearing flashy
jewelry. Ace is a good guy with his head on straight.
He doesn't want to deal drugs, but he loves the
good things in life that money brings. He watches
as his best friend Mitch, (Mekhi Phifer) makes money
dealing drugs. Mitch has got cars, women and respect,
in addition to being the envy of Ace.

When Mitch gets busted by the police and sent to jail,
an opportunity gets presented to Ace as he steps in
to fill the void. Ace hooks up with a Colombian drug
lord he met at the cleaners (Esai Morales), then hits
the streets with a better business plan: sell a good
product for less. Slowly, Ace begins building his
own empire through his low-key drug selling tactics.

Often brutally violent and often depressing, Paid
in Full
is a gritty portrait of the "Golden Age"
of Harlem, as this film successfully recreates its
style, fashion, music and nightlife. It is full of
powerful performances by all its cast members,
particularly Mekhi Phifer and Wood Harris. Though
this type of story has been done many times before,
I give credit to director Charles Stone III for
this often gripping drama on the erosion of urban

How is the transfer?

Filmed in somber, dark tones, the film has a dated
look to it, and that's probably exactly what the
filmmakers intended. Colors are muted and the soft
focus prevails. Normally I would be disappointed
in a transfer like this, but in this instance, it
effectively adds to the gritty feel of the film.

I wouldn't call the film's 5.1 Dolby Digital
surround track an enveloping experience, but the
audio does come across the front channels with
strong dynamics that are bass-heavy. This is
important for the film's excellent old-school
hip-hop soundtrack that is put to good use along
with good .LFE response. I would have been more
elated if the rears played a part in supporting
this music, but alas it does not. Instead, the
rear channels mostly provide the sounds of the
Harlam streets as well as other ambient noises.

Special Features

The lack of any sort of bonus features on this
disc should immediately clue you into the lack of
promotion that Dimension gave to this movie.

The only extra feature included here is a full-length
commentary by director Charles Stone III who
often talks about the film's balance between realism
and surrealism. I was fascinated listening to the
second chapter as Stone talks about the meaning of
starting Ace's story inside a dry cleaning
establishment which acted as a womb for the character
that sort of protected him from the evils of the
world outside its window. It's amusing to find out
that many of the exterior shots that represent
Harlem were actually filmed in Toronto, thus saving
lots of money on film production costs. As Ace
starts climbing up the ladder of his own success,
the director points out many of the subtle changes
that were made to his character, going from gawky
to confident. I actually enjoyed sampling this
commentary more than Stone's Drumline effort.
The director seems to have a lot of pride in this
film, and it's quite enjoyable to listen to this
laid-back cool cat talk about his vision for this

Though there is no inclusion of the film's original
trailer, I was sort of happy to get a Sneak Peek
at Quentin Tarantino's upcoming theatrical Kill
as well as other non-anamorphic trailers of
Miramax catalog product such as Dracula II:
Ascension, Halloween: Resurrection, Asunder
Full Frontal. There is also a promo for the
film's soundtrack.

Final Thoughts

Though this type story has been told countless
times before, Paid In Full still manages to
engulfing you in its world of tough guys, their guns
and their rivalries. It's a world so well recreated
in this film that makes for quite an interesting watch.

If you see it on store shelves, rent it!

Release Date: April 8, 2003

All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality


Mar 7, 2002
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Real Name
I definitely check this one out. I saw a music video about this movie but that was the only promotion that I saw about it at all. I was curious from the video, but I never heard anything else about it. I didn't know if it went to theaters or not.

Well, at least I'll be able to see it now.


Sep 13, 1999
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Real Name
Chris Caine
it's not bad.

but I feel it's also not compelling.

sound and picture are ok.

as a real life drama, it's worth a rental.

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