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American Gangster

Film Four Stars
Once again one of my regular readers Ramchandra Solanki has decided to help me out by heading into London and attending a press screening of American Gangster, and he's brought back a great review for us all.

You know I can't attend the London press screenings since I'm in Edinburgh, so I like to offer them out to readers as a thank you, if you're ever interested in attending one then you should get yourself onto the Filmstalker Facebook group where they are all announced.

In the meantime here's Ramchandra's review of American Gangster, the new film from Ridley Scott starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in this story based on real events of the first non-mafia gangster who built up a huge drug business by shipping them back from Vietnam in the coffins of dead soldiers. [Richard]

Plot.pngAmericanGangster.jpgIn 1970s America, nobody used to notice Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) , the quiet driver to one of the city's leading black crime bosses. But when his boss suddenly dies, Frank exploits the opening in the power structure to build his own empire and create his own version of the American Dream. Through ingenuity and a strict business ethic, he comes to rule the inner-city drug trade, flooding the streets with a purer product at a better price. Lucas outplays all of the crime syndicates and becomes not only one of the city's mainline corruptors, but part of it's circle of legit civic superstars.

Richie Roberts (Russel Crowe) is an outcast cop close enough to the streets to feel a shift of control in the drug underworld. Roberts believes someone is climbing he rungs above the known Mafia families and starts to suspect that a black power has come from nowhere to dominate the scene.

Both Lucas and Roberts share a rigorous ethical code that sets them apart from their own colleagues, making them lone figures on opposite sides of the law. The destinies of these two men will become intertwined as they approach a confrontation where only one of them can come out on top.

TheFilm.pngBased on a true story, the main focus of the film is that it is set in a time where being black and being in power were not things that the people had come to see as mutually feasible. In such a setting who better to define this rising power other than Denzel? I mean, "everybody loves Denzel".

On the flip side, I feared this may have it's toll. Since Denzel has a larger-than-life persona with a knack for looking cool, even when he's doing the more nastier of things (Man on Fire, Training Day), I felt this may become an issue, as it may make the distribution of drugs look cool, which really just shouldn't happen, on or off screen.

Thankfully, the parts about the actual street dealing is kept low-key as far as his character development is concerned and though we are informed of the blue magic brand hitting the streets, with numerous victims of addiction and their tragic consequences, we see Frank quite distanced from it all. His approach to the business is no different than it would be for any other legal product. Getting a name through better quality and at a lower price. To him it was merely an opportunity to be exploited, a highly lucrative one at that.

On the other side of the law we have the character of Richie Roberts who is much reminiscent of the super cops portrayed in Hindi films of the 80's. The one man in a corrupt system that has more enemies than allies on both sides of the law, he is not to be messed with and can not be bought. He is a straight cop that has a passion for what his job is supposed to be - justice. Naturally, a man of such passion has a terrible family life.

Russell Crowe eases into the role like fish to water, underplaying his part in just the right amounts. Admittedly I'm not a fan, but I can't fault him here. He gets into the skin of the character and will surely get applauded for it.

So, with Ridley Scott in the driving seat & the characters both in play how does it all unfold? I'd love to say flawlessly but that's be stretching it just a little. Don't get me wrong, it moves pretty damned well, but it does leave a bit of room for improvement.

Being a total outsider to the facts, picking holes seems a little unfair, but even so I'll say it seemed as though they may have over-dramatised some of the on-goings to fit within the span of Frank's career. I felt they really didn't need to do this.

In particular it stands out that Frank Lucas is made out to be the first black American Gangster, except he blatantly wasn't. His boss before his untimely demise too was black and from the same trade. If approached smartly, a little more detail about him, his mistakes & Frank learning from this could have left more of an impact (in flashbacks perhaps). Currently standing it seemed as though Frank was progressing totally off his own back.

This came across a little inspired by the iconic Godfather figure, backing up this theory there is also much emphasis on the business remaining within the family. Of-course, this isn't so far fetched, keeping it in the household helps, as there is less scope for betrayals (in theory), but re-iterating my above point, if they showed that this was one of the improvements he made to his predecessor, this could have been more interesting.

Putting this aside, the progress of the gangster, running in parallel to the lone team of Richie Roberts and his small posse of investigators is impressively integrated. You can relate to both sides of the law progressing in their motives concurrently, without feeling a jump in narrative from one side to the other.

What also came as a pleasant surprise was that the long duration of the film didn't seem 'too' long. The film is paced well and leads up to a resolution which is highly satisfying. A good example of truth being stranger than fiction.

Following the relationships of Frank with his family, his business contacts, his enemies, it all shows good business-sense, flourish and progress. Something I thought felt quite real was that not all of these angles that we get exposed to have full resolutions, in fact some have none.

As an example: his nephew who wanted to become a sportsman his entire life, is given the opportunity to join the big leagues due to Frank's influential stature, but having seen Frank's success and riches, he decides he too wants just this. It's brought up in conversation at a family gathering & you can see Frank concerned, but it's left there. No further discussion or actions.

The story is about Frank and set within a certain time frame. There is no way everything in this timeframe would be tied up nice and neat. Keeping this sort of reality in the narrative is amongst its strengths. The largest strength to myself, as I mentioned earlier was that resolution to the story is refreshing and again, comes across as interesting and believable.

Overall.pngI found that the strengths heavily outweigh the minor blemishes that I've pointed at. With powerful performances by the Academy award winners in their principal roles, as well as the remainder of the cast playing their integral bit-parts that move the story forward, I'd put this up there as one of this year's better films. A must watch when it releases nation-wide in November.

Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Steven Zaillian and Mark Jacobson
Cast Includes: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Brolin, Carla Gugino, Chiwetel Ejiofor
UK IMDB Film Details



Might see this one on Monday now. Have you seen it yet Rich?

Nope, I'm thinking about heading off to see it at the weekend too.

I hope you write your own review of it too although Ram's is great of course.


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