American Gangster

Ridley Scott, what a great bloke. I don't know him, but it seems he's one of Tinseltown's friendliest talents. He gladly co-operated on the 'Making Of The Alien Quadrilogy' article for the The Digital Bits book on everything DVD and he's open and easy to work with (according to his actors and producers). On top of that, journalists can't get enough of interviewing Scott, just because of his charm and charisma.

"So what?" you may ask. Sure, even a total ass of a director can be appreciated, as long as his movies are good. But I still prefer my cinematic heroes to be friendly. I do hope to interview Mr. Scott one day. He's made some of my favourite movies, notably Blade Runner and Gladiator. Believe it or not, I have never seen Alien. But I don't feel any regrets either. Some day, when the time is right, I will catch up. So much to see, so little time.

Enter American Gangster, the movie based on the life of living mobster Frank Lucas. Sources claim only 20% of the flick is accurate, but even if you divide the total running time by five (and thus ignore 80% of the crimes Lucas allegedly commits) you are left with one seriously bad dude. He's not afraid to humiliate or shoot friends and he lies to his family.

Denzel Washington is very good. I especially admire the subtle use of his voice. When he's playing the "organized crime man" (e.g. negotiating with dealers), he speaks with a distinguished American accent. But when he's conversating with his brothers, he uses the ghetto street language. Impressive. I like it when actors alter their voice to suit the character.

Russell Crowe is one of the best actors alive. Evidence aplenty in Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind. As a 'good cop' that wishes not to interfere with corruption, he's likeable and believable.

Josh Brolin steals the show during his short appearances. I know I'm biased (Brolin being a Goonie), but that man showcases some fine acting. That moustache is a little preposterous, but I guess that was the style of the time. I guess.

From the male chauvinist pig's point of view (for which I apologize beforehand), Carla Gugino is smokin' hot. I knew I had seen her face somewhere before, but I just couldn't figure out where. After some research, it turned out she was Michael J. Fox's love interest in the first season of Spin City, a series I enjoyed in the fall of 1996.

The ageing Ruby Dee is incredible as the mother of Frank Lucas. Well-deserved supporting actor Oscar nod, even with her minimal screen time. Lest I forget, special mention to the other supporting actors. At times, American Gangster feels like an ensemble drama, boasting a very fine cast.

Negative points : a little editing wouldn't hurt. Sometimes, the tempo is gone and the effort drags and drags on. Plus, American Gangster is not on a par with The Godfather. But isn't it unfair to compare every crime movie with the one that raised the standard of the genre?

Conclusion? Washington, Crowe, Brolin & Scott are a lethal combo. Don't miss American Gangster.

Julian De Backer, 20 September 2008