Tuesday, November 6, 2007

American Gangster

Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe are two of the best, most accomplished actors around. Like every great match-up in film, if done right, the interaction can be classic. Pacino and De Niro lived up to the hype, and then some, in Heat. Each word chosen carefully, each phrase spoken better than the one before. Washington and Crowe get their heavyweight scene. Although I’ll never tell exactly how it goes down, the actors exchange in a witty battle that will surely exceed your expectations.

American Gangster is director Ridley Scott’s new, powerful venture into drug-filled madness. Washington plays real life Harlem, heroin kingpin Frank Lucas. After Lucas’ father-figure boss dies unexpectedly, Lucas begins to build an empire. While the Vietnam War rages on, reports keep airing on the high level of soldiers becoming addicted to drugs. Lucas decides to skip the middleman and travel to Vietnam, getting his product from the source. He manages to get it back to the states (with some devilishly sneaky tactics) and starts to sell his untouched product for cheap.

Most of Harlem gets addicted to his Blue Magic and soon the money starts to roll in. Lucas brings his whole family up from North Carolina, giving his beloved mother (a fantastic Ruby Dee) a brand new mansion and hiring all of his brothers to work for him. But you’ve seen enough gangster-drug movies to know that no one stays on top forever. That’s why Lucas is being hunted down by Richie Roberts (Crowe), the last honest cop in New York.

Roberts is too good to be a cop, no one on the job trusts him after he turns in a million bucks in drug money. He desperately tries to maintain a sense of loyalty in his work, while is personal life crumbles. When Roberts is assigned to head up a new drug enforcement division, the hunt for the Blue Magic supplier begins.

American Gangster is filled with all those classic elements from the 70s mob movies. In fact, it feels like several of them mixed together, but with Scott’s own, gritty touch. Washington can play one hell of a villain. He gives Lucas a swagger, a walk and talk that will leave you on edge. You never know when Washington is going to turn, like the flick of a switch, from that cool smile, to blowing someone’s head off. Like his Alonzo Harris from Training Day, Washington is in good, evil form.

Crowe plays Roberts with that signature scowl. A man immersed in his work, eating crappy sandwiches and tossing women around like newspaper. He ferociously commands his scenes in the film. He enters a suspect’s home with a brilliant ease that will keep your heart pounding. After giving us his villainous soft side earlier this year in 3:10 to Yuma, Crowe is affirming his position as one of our best leading men.

So what’s wrong with it? At over two and a half hours, people may get restless waiting for a showdown. Also, Crowe’s story is given an equal amount of time to Washington’s. Some of this could be left out (a tired child custody battle) to tighten the movie and give people more of what they really came for, Denzel. The supporting cast is phenomenal, but unfortunately, most are underused. Chiwetel Ejiofor, shamefully, isn’t given much. Other players like Cuba Gooding Jr. (who knew?), Josh Brolin (it’s his year), Armand Assante (loving his Italian mob boss character) and rappers T.I., RZA and Common all make the best of their scenes. But it’s ol’ Ms. Ruby Dee who steals each of her powerful moments on screen. She is given a great speech which should earn her a seat come Oscar time.

American Gangster is a great, wild ride. With an excellent screenplay that gives us just as many smarts as it does action escapades. A climatic scene in a project housing complex is one of the best staged, most thrilling sequences in a film so far this year. The movie is only heightened by the two acting titans. Stick with it for the big payoff, once Denzel throws a cup of coffee across the room, you’ll know that this is what you came for. A

1 comment:

  1. Your Dad forwarded this to me to read. I told him he had to see it......probably the best movie I have seen in awhile. Great review, you nailed it.