Tuesday, December 18, 2007

American Gangster (2007)

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If you have the balls to name a movie American Gangster, it better be bad-ass. Ridley Scott, who teamed up with Russell Crowe to make another bad-ass movie, Gladiator, partners with Crowe again in Gangster, in a film that lives up to the hype and hits the audience with a .44 magnum blast to the side of the head. Crowe plays Det. Richie Roberts, a workaholic cop fighting through a divorce, studying for the Bar exam, and pursuing New York City's most wanted criminal, Frank Lucas. Scott used Crowe in Gladiator as a bottom-of-the-bucket warrior who used his wit, strength, and honor to rise above oppressive forces. But in Gangster, Scott's breadwinner is Denzel Washington who portrays the cunning, intelligent, ruthless Frank Lucas in his climb from a mindless muscle-man in the New York City crime ring to the king of the drug-trade. We should all be accustomed to Washington stealing the screen, but his chill-inducing turn as Lucas is a highlight in his legendary portfolio. Other noteworthy performances include Josh Brolin who is perfect as a rival cop to Crowe's character, and Ruby Dee as Frank Lucas's strong-willed mother. The film is one of the longest of the year at over two and a half hours, but the plot is constructed smoothly and never seems long. Scott develops the Lucas character so that we see how his personal and professional lives intersect and how his values determine his choice of actions. Unfortunately, the focus on Lucas leaves a little to be desired in terms of Crowe's character, Roberts. Crowe delivers a strong performance, but the lack of depth to support his character leave him standing in the shadow of Washington's menacing performance. American Gangster is clearly the crime film of the year and deserves substantial acclaim just for living up to the hype. The lack of character development separates it from being elevated from a crime hit to a crime classic on par with Good Fellas. And although there are a handful of memorable scenes and lines, the script isn't catchy enough to become a pop culture phenomenon like Scarface. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the twisted side of Frank Lucas never strays from a strangely human element unlike the over-the-top, cartoonish nature of Tony Montana. Gangster captures Washington at the prime of his career in one of the most bad-ass roles in recent memory.

Good For: Denzel fans, fans of crime movies

Bad For: people bothered by violent movies, people who dislike long movies

The Gallery
The Economist: * * * *
The Surfer: * * * *
The Writer * * * *

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