Ten Thousand Bytes of Cinematic Critique
Director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, etc.) stirs the love pot with his guy pal Russell Crowe (Cinderella Man) by matching him with top notch actor Denzel Washington (Philadelphia) in American Gangster, a movie roughly based on a true gangster story. It's not 100% accurate, but as this is a piece of entertainment and not a documentary, it doesn't matter. I don't think Crowe is as good an actor as Washington but he's good enough and he usually picks good scripts. In this instance, he chooses another good movie, although I think American Gangster is lacking a certain something that would make it great.We know the actors and director, when at the top of their game, can put out an amazing product. No complaints here; all do a fine job. The script avoids stupid plot points, weak dialogue and unresolved threads, but it just lacks a bit of the punch and pizazz gangster films should have. It's worth seeing, don't get me wrong, but I'm not sure it's a classic. The film isn't as complex as The Departed, which could be seen as good or bad, although whichever way you take it, it's more simple. It's sort of like if The Godfather met King of New York, had a baby, and the baby had a birthmark that looked like the scientist guy from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Joe Morton) in the worst toupee of all time.Speaking of Morton, there are lots of interesting faces in this film. There's Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity), RZA (with his Wu Tang Clan tattoo clearly visible, hello production team, cover that shit up), and Cuba Gooding Jr. (Boyz n the Hood). And, you know, other people. Oh, and do you love titties? Because there are breasts o' plenty in this. With any gangster film, the expectation is for blood and bullets, and there is that, to an extent. There's a pretty tense raid, a smattering of executions, aaaannnndddd that's about it. It doesn't hurt the movie, but if you're looking for action, stay away. I'm a bit ashamed to say that it took me a while to figure out Crowe's Richie Roberts was based out of New Jersey, since everyone was up to that point in Harlem, and really Newark is a dump anyway so it could have been, say, Queens or somewhere in New York. Also, I'm not too sure where Washington's Frank Lucas' mother's brand new house was located, but I have it narrowed down to two states, and I'm leaning towards upstate New York. Finally, the subplots involving Roberts' divorce and bar exam were pretty meaningless. I know they were supposed to add depth to his character, but they could have really trimmed that stuff down. He's an honest cop but a lousy husband. That's all we need to know. Other than that and the lack of punch, though, I enjoyed American Gangster. It's not going to crack the top 5 gangster movies of all time, maybe not the top ten, but in a year of lousy films, American Gangster at least stands out as one of the best of 2007.
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