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Set It Off (1996): An analysis

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Published: Fri, 15 Dec 2017

“What is the mother fucking procedure when you have a gun to your head” (Set it Ooff- Frankie). Those are the last words Frankie says before she is shot and killed by the LAPD. Set it off Off is a crime movie, that follows the struggle and lives of four different, but similar African-American women in the projects of Los Angeles. All their independent struggles come together to create the climax to the movie. It sets the tone and makes their lives all relate back to each other. The story focuses on four main characters: Cleo (Queen Latifah), Stony (Jade Pinkett- Smith), Tisean (Kimberley Elise), and Frankie (Vivica A. Fox). Cleo, Frankie, Tisean, and Stony are all best friends and have their personal struggles and all agree they want to get up and put of the projects and begin to live the American dream.

Set it off is an action, crime drama that takes place in the projects of LA. All of the female characters have lived in the projects their whole life and find that robbing banks would be their only way out. Frankie, having worked at banks for years prior, feels that her knowledge of the bank system meant that they could get in and out of the banks quickly and with a lot of money. At first Stony and T.T. don’t agree with the idea, until they have their own struggle that pushes them over the limit. Stony’s brother, Stevie, was brutally murdered by the LAPD, and T.T.’s son was taking taken by child services for a work related accident. After these tragedies happened to the other two ladies, they agree to help rob the banks. At first they are successful and they get away the first few time, until they rob Downtown Federal where police detectives just gave a brief on the string of robberies respond to the silent alarm. Once they arrive back at the bank they, are in a stand off with three of the women and T.T. ends up getting shot and later die’s in Frankie’s arms. This leads to a police pursuit of the remaining girls and also the death of Frankie and Cleo.

Frankie out of the four women had the best life; she recently received a promotion at her job, where she is a bank teller. This all changes when a couple of thugs from the projects come into the bank and rob it. Frankie is slow to give up the money so one of the robbers grabs an older lady and shoots her right in front of her. After the robbery she is interviewed by detectives from the LAPD about her relation with the robbers. After the detectives are through with the interview, her boss fires her on the spot for the fact that she knew the robbers. After she was fired she joked with the girls about how they could rob banks and get away from all their struggles. Cleo having troubles of her own is excited and wanting to go through with the plans. When she is fired from the bank her pursuit of the American Dream is shattered, she sees that robbing banks is quick and easy money.

Cleo is a “crazy” girl from the Acorn projects of Los Angeles; she is up for anything that gets her blood pumping. She is in a dead end job and is ready to do what she has to do to get her and her girlfriend out of the hood. She feels that if she doesn’t get out of the hood she’ll either be dead or in jail, and that to her is not an option. She really hasn’t had parents around in her life so she feels that her girls are all she has in this world, and she is really close with Stony and relates to her the most. Cleo’s American Dream is fixing up her 66′ Impala and smoking weed in a middle class neighborhood where bullets don’t fly by.

Stony has had to grow up fast. Her parents were killed in an automobile accident when she was a young teen. She had to then start providing for her and her little brother Stevie. He was bound for UCLA, but due to finciancal issues he was not sure if he was going to be able to go. So her being the provider and not seeing any other option she has sex with a used car sales men for money. Stevie had recently graduated from high school and was college bound, when he was coming back from a friend’s house and the SWAT team was doing a raid on bank robbing suspects and mistook him for the suspect. They asked him to freeze and show his hands , while pulling out his hands he pulled out the bottle of champagne he also had in his hands, they SWAT team also mistook that as a gun and vicious shot him to death. When she sees her brother she acts as any one would having lost a loved one and falls to the floor and sobs. After loosing her brother she feels that she should also get out of the ghetto and agrees to help rob banks. Having to help raise her brother with little income she feels what Tisean is going through and they can relate. Stony now has no reason to live anymore her friends is all she has and she know that living in the hood could jeopardize her life and her friends lives too.

Tisean is a single mother; she doesn’t say much and keeps to herself. She works along side Cleo and Stony at Luther’s Janitorial Services, but due to the fact that her boss Luther takes taxes out of her paychecks, she can’t afford a babysitter and has to bring her baby to work with her. Her baby gets into some cleaning products and gets rushed to the hospital, where child services takes the baby from her until she can prove to be stable enough to raise the baby. This makes Tisean very depressed and in need of money fast so she also agrees to rob banks to get her son back. Tisean just wants her baby back, her son means the world to her and she feels lost without him. So having him back in her life would be her American Dream.

Having all agreed to rob the banks they rely on Frankie’s insight on banks to get them through it, Cleo’s connection for weapons, and Stony’s leadership and street savvy to get through their destruction. At the first bank robbery T.T gets nervous and backs out at the bank, so it leaves the other three to rob the bank. They all do well for it being their first robbery and they make away with 12,000 dollars, but that only being 3,000 a piece they know it is not enough to leave the hood so they decide to rob a few more banks. After all four women successfully rob a few more banks they need some place to keep the money so they decide on a heater duct at the building they clean.

This is a good plan until Luther, their boss, finds the money and steals it so they go on a hunt for him. Knowing that all there American Dreams are at stake they go on a manhunt for their boss. They find him at a motel with a prostitute, and they bust in and demand the money form him at gun point. Cleo turns her back on him and he pulls a gun on Cleo. That leaves Tisean with no choice, but to shot and kill Luther. This puts the girls in a panic and they decide to rob Downtown Federal, a major bank in downtown LA.

Knowing that this bank is big and has a lot of money this would be their last chance to achieve the dreams they have set out to achieve.Moment s before the robbery at the bank the same two LAPD detectives from in the beginning gave a brief at the bank about the robbers, so when they go to rob the bank the detectives are not far when the silent alarm goes off. Once they arrive at the bank the detectives and the women are in a stand off when a guard at the bank decides to take matters into his own hands, and he starts to shoot, hitting Tisean in the chest. The other women return fire and pull Tisean out of the bank into the get a way car. They shot out is know in the streets of downtown and their get a way car is taking heavy fire so they have to switch cars.

Once they arrive at Cleo’s car they go to start her car and move the money, but by then it’s too late. Tisean had lost a lot of blood and passes away in Frankie’s arms. They leave her there in the car and proceed in Cleo’s car, still having the police right on their tails. They have no time to think so they decide to split up in a tunnel. Frankie and Stony run with half of the money, while Cleo continues in the car until she hits a roadblock and her car can’t take no more. Cleo being the fight she is gets out with a machine gun and opens fire on the LAPD and she is shot to death by them. The other are still running and Frankie gets surrounded by the police , and one of the detectives approaches her unarmed to talk some reason into her and have her surrender. Jail not being an option for her she pulls her gun and ask the detective “What is the mother fucking procedure when you have a gun to your head” (Set it off- Frankie). She then starts running when an officer shoots her in the back and killing her while Stony is looking this from a tour bus on its way to Mexico. Stony on the other hand gets away and gets into Mexico, having so many memories about all that she lost her feels that she needs change so she cuts her hair and drives to the beach.

All four women made the choice to take part in the violation of the law, but all four saw it to be a way out of their personal struggles and live the lavish life they saw advertise everywhere. Although three of the four women died that was all a price the women were willing to take, they knew it was that or the streets.


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