“American Gangster”

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Going into a film with fairly high expectations is never a good thing, but from all the raves, and public love alike, I couldn’t go into the with with anything less than the utmost hope that it would be a crime film reminiscent of The French Connection. Anyways, here’s my review.

Ridley Scott, one of the best ‘inconsistant’ director’s of all time, brings us his latest film in American Gangster. Though most of his films have been dramatic or war oriented, he has done a crime flick here and there, none of them have been about ‘gangsters’. Well, his first shot at a gangster flick is a success. Though it could’ve been touched up, his direction is great nonetheless. His take on the screenplay was very good, making it predominantly suspenseful, rather than a gritty ‘bang-bang get the bad guy and go’ type film, which in my eyes would’ve been a disappointment. As I said, his direction could’ve been better, mainly because I was hoping for a Frank Lucas film, as in a film devoted to the man who was Frank Lucas, and not a film that spends about a third of it’s time showing corrupt cops, and their lives. In my opinion, the film would’ve benefited immensely with a less cliched outlook on crime.

The screenplay was adapted from an article in New York Magazine by veteran Steven Zaillian. As I said about Scott, this man has written ‘crime’ films before, but never a gangster one. He did a great job giving the audience a feel for both the man and the monster [roberts and lucas], but not so much Lucas. Throughout the whole film, I felt as if Lucas was more two-dimensional than Roberts (a supposed secondary character). There was unnecessary information about Roberts, but not enough information about Lucas, though Lucas dominated the film. It just felt a bit out of place. Besides this flaw, the dialog was sharp, but slightly cliched, mainly due in part by so many gangster films having the same feel. Again, as I previously mentioned, the film would’ve really benefited with more of an expose on Lucas. But for what it was, it was pretty damn good.

The acting of this predominately two man show was including, but not limited to just that.First off, this man was hidden talent that was unearthed last year, mainly due to his exposure in such films as Children of Men and his Golden Globe performance in Kinky Boots. I am talking of course about Chiwetel Ejiofor, who in this film plays Frank Lucas’ cousin “Huey Lucas“. I was very disappointed with the amount of screen time Ejiofor got, because he is such a talent, it hurts to see him be wasted so. His performance was about 15 minutes long, I’d say. Though he was limited to 10% of the film’s running, he was still very good, like usual. Every scene he had with Washington was great, because their chemistry was so realistic. Almost all of his dialog had meaning, and every line of it that he spoke was wonderful. Another great performance to add to his 2007 resume.This film also sports another great, ‘underrated, but not for long’ actor in Josh Brolin. This year alone he’s had 4 of the most acclaimed films, and he’s been either the leading actor, or had a major supporting role in 3 of them. In this film, he plays “Detective Trupo“, a crooked cop, who is relentless in his job, and is always out for number one: himself. Every so often you’ll find a film character that is one of the most despicable and the most rage filling that you’ll see. I believe this character is in the running for this year’s. Though there are a lot of antagonists in film (a lot of them played very averagely), Brolin gives the audience a realistic depiction of a ‘bad’ cop. It’s not common you’ll find an actor that can not only recite their lines, but also carry such an attitude that makes you have real emotions over a fictitious persona. If Brolin weren’t cast as Trupo, I think the film would’ve lagged.

Along with Casey Affleck in The Assassination…, if nominated, Russell Crowe will be said alike; that he belongs in the leading category, and I could not disagree more. He has as much screen time as Denzel, and probably has more dialog than him to boot. Anyways, onto the performance. Crowe plays “Richie Roberts“, who seems to be the only ‘good’ cop in the film. As I previously said, Crowe has more to work with than Denzel, as the film pries into his love life, working life, and his obsession with Lucas. He shows love, hate, disappointment, doubt and obsessiveness as well as any other actor working today. With this, Crowe delivers another excellent performance to add to his already extensive acting resume.

Onto the performance all critic’s have been talking about, Denzel Washington as “Frank Lucas“, the man who brought the streets back to the street. As far as criminals go, Lucas was by far one of the most interesting ones. A man who said what he meant, and meant what he said. Who was both a lover and a fighter. And a man who was both a criminal, but also honest. If you’re hoping for a film that’s all about Lucas, you will be distraught. While Washington’s performance is the best, it was sadly not as deep as Crowe’s character. Giving Washington less to work with, and less of an impact to make. Though, as we all know, Washington can turn nothing into something… a very big something at times. This is one of those times. He works with greed, anger, despair and aggression very well. So well in fact, that I’d call his performance dynamic. Overall, as well rounded a performance as any actor in this situation could’ve turned out.

This is a fairly technical film, but there wasn’t a wide variety of technical aspects to work with.Marc Streitenfeld composed the ever so reused ‘street’ score. Though it does have an interesting difference or two, it’s basis is the same old, same old, and brings nothing new to the table. This is really disappointing for me, because his collaboration last year with Ridley Scott for the film A Good Year had one of the most amazing ones of the year/decade. I was just expecting more from him.The film editing is comme-çi comme-ça. It has it’s glorious moments, but then there are times where you just wish the scene were shorter, if not just not there at all. The pacing of the film is fine, and for a film that surpasses two and a half hours, it’s great. You’re constantly intrigued by the story, and there’s enough action to keep you wanting more.

The cinematography by the always great Harris Savides was great as always. He sets a really dark tone for the film to work with. His work for this film is all around great. One of the many great scenes he gives us, is the Ali vs. Frasier fight. The atmosphere is fantastic, mainly due in part to the lighting, and the perspective from the camera. Just wonderful stuff. Unfortunately, Savides does not make my Top 5 of the year, for the second time this year.

Nominations for American Gangster

[Top Ten’s]
Best Picture (#9)
Best Actor in a Leading Role – Denzel Washington (#6)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Russell Crowe (#7)
Best Adapted Screenplay – Steven Zaillian (#7)
Best Cinematography

Rating : 8.5/10


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