American Gangster (2007)


Director:  Ridley Scott
Cast:  Denzel WashingtonRussell CroweChiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Ruby Dee
Plot:  In 1970s America, a detective works to bring down the drug empire of Frank Lucas, a heroin kingpin from Manhattan, who is smuggling the drug into the country from the Far East.

Genre:  Crime / Drama

Awards:  Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction
Runtime:  157min
Rating:  M18 for violence, pervasive drug content and language, nudity and sexuality.


Ridley Scott is finally back with a clenched fist.  After the disappointing medieval war epic, Kingdom of Heaven, and the commercial flop, A Good Year, he realized that he had to do something outstanding to save his declining career as a premier filmmaker.  Out comes American Gangster, which brings back quite recent memories of Scott’s Oscar-winning Gladiator.  Will he bag the top honors again?  Thus far, American Gangster looks like it could bash any other picture out of the title race.

American Gangster tends toward the style of Scorsese’s Goodfellas, rather than Francis Coppola's The Godfather.  It nitpicks on the ugly life of a mobster, rather than paint a romanticized portrait of one.  Denzel Washington plays Frank Lucas, a black real life drug criminal, who was released from prison nearly two decades ago.  If not for his Oscar-winning feat in Training Day, Washington could have been the strong frontrunner for the Best Actor category this year.  He can be calm one minute, and then blow someone's head apart the next.  Only Washington could have firmly nailed down such a volatile character.

Russell Crowe, a Scott favorite, has to be contented with a supporting role.  He excels in being a moody police detective who goes by his own rule of thumb when solving crimes, a flashback to the days of L.A Confidential.  Scott's direction is unbelievable; he's steady and confident though the first fifteen minutes show signs of panic.  The scenes are edited too quickly, and the introduction underdeveloped.  We must be thankful that the rest of the film is tip-top.

The cinematography is attractive, with great shots of 1970s America that recollect of films produced in that era.  The repertoire of songs used is diverse, and the original soundtrack by newcomer Marc Streitenfeld shows that he just might be the next big thing in film music.  American Gangster is one of 2007's best pictures.  It's an absorbing crime saga that stretches to nearly three hours.  While Scorsese's The Departed is more focused and has storytelling clarity, American Gangster falls only slightly behind.  But it's never to be the classic that Goodfellas and The Godfather are.

Verdict:  One of the best films of 2007, this is Ridley Scott's absorbing take on the crime saga.


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