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 Reviewed: American Gangster

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PostSubject: Reviewed: American Gangster   Sat Dec 08, 2007 7:44 pm

Stars: Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington, Josh Brolin
Directed by: Ridley Scott.

Grade: B+

American Gangster features stellar performances by Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, but what this film really does is further establish Ridley Scott as one of our great directors. Sure, the man has won an Oscar (for Gladiator) and people know his name, but he's rarely if ever mentioned in the same breath as guys like Scorsese, Coppola, and Spielberg. He should be. In American Gangster, Scott examines the life of gangster Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and how he would go about capturing the American dream. The film also delves into the life of police detective Richie Roberts, a man so obsessed with his work, that it would cost him the ones he loved. The story spans several years starting in the 70's, and traces the early days of Frank Lucas struggles to establish himself in a deadly underworld of crime, as well as his eventual climb to power. While unassuming at the surface, this seemingly cool, calm, and collected man would do anything to get his point across. This would include gunning down opposing forces in broad daylight, and even going so far as to take out one his own men if he wasn't happy with the way they were doing their job even if they were family.



The film also tracks the life of Richie Roberts, as he frantically inches ever so closer to putting an end to Lucas' reign over the streets. Those expecting a full blown showdown between Lucas and Roberts might be disappointed. Crowe and Washington do share screen time in the film, but not until the final act, and when they do finally cross paths, it's not necessarily in the way you might be expecting. There are certainly moments of explosiveness in American Gangster, but it is the quieter, more restrained moments that give the movie it's power. The look of the picture is positively extraordinary. Scott has a meticulous eye for detail, and American Gangster does for 70's Manhattan what David Fincher's Zodiac did for 70's San Francisco. Denzel Washington is stellar as Frank Lucas. He's a time bomb who never stops ticking. As a man always out to do the right thing (even if it proves to be detrimental to those around him) Crowe has the less showy role, but his Richie Roberts is every bit as effective.

The final moments of American Gangster are most unexpected. What ultimately becomes of Frank Lucas is extremely fascinating. There's been a lot of talk about the historical accuracy of this picture. Some have suggested that Lucas as presented in this film is not how the real Lucas was at all. They go on to suggest that Lucas was nothing but a cold blooded killer and not the intellectual the film makes him out to be. I guess the only ones who know the truth are Lucas and the those who were close to him. Whatever the case may be, this is an amazingly well written character. Kudos to screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List, Awakenings). There have been stronger films about gangsters through the years. Goodfellas, The Godfather, and Heat immediately spring to mind, but the incredibly diverse Ridley Scott (Alien, Bladerunner, Gladiator, Matchstick Men, Black Hawk Down, Someone to Watch Over Me, etc.) is extremely efficient and enormously gifted at getting the story across. The end result is one of the strongest films of the year, from one of our strongest and most prolific directors.

B+
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