Saturday, February 23, 2008

REVIEW: American Gangster

American GangsterJust Watched:
American Gangster

My Rating:
3½ Stars

This film is based on the true story of Frank Lucas' heroin distribution organization in New York City from 1969 until the mid-1970's. Lucas, played by Denzel Washington, is a Johnny Come Lately drug lord who becomes THE player in the mob business. Detective Richie Roberts, played by Russell Crowe, is a cop with integrity who is tasked with taking down the big fish drug dealers. To actually do this job, Roberts puts together an investigative team of other trustworthy cops (very reminiscent of Elliot Ness & his Untouchables). The drama happens when both Lucas & Roberts receive pressure from the established oligarchical power in their respective businesses (Lucas from Italian mob bosses; Roberts from dirty cops in on the take) to quit messing with the status quo.

Denzel Washington
Denzel always walks tall
My main draw to this film was the acting. This part is right in Denzel's wheelhouse, and he pretty much delivers. When it comes to playing the thoughtful, strong presence who takes control in every scene, Denzel does it every time. He's typecast in that sense -- I'm not sure if I could see him portraying weakness on screen. Russell Crowe can do both, though. Still, despite how much I like Crowe, he was just sort of there. He didn't do a bad job, but he didn't really knock his role out of the park. I can't help but think that this role wasn't really for him. I think it would have been more captivating if, and I'd have rather seen, a more diminutive man take Crowe's role: say, Ed Norton or Sean Penn. Not Mark Wahlberg, though. Would have to be an actor that conveyed depth.

A warning: if you can't handle National Geographic-style nudity, then I would recommend completely steering clear from this film.

Not sure there's a unique message to this film. "Pride goeth before the fall," maybe. "The good guys always win" ... something like that perhaps. It's really just a good story told pretty well. There were a few odd tangents in the movie, and it took way too long to get to the meat & potatoes. This one could have been better. 3½ stars.

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