American Gangster (2007)

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> Nirrads Best of 2007
Overall Rating 71%
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Ranked #363
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Following the death of his employer and mentor, Bumpy Johnson, Frank Lucas establishes himself as the number one importer of heroin in the Harlem district of Manhattan. He does so by buying heroin directly from the source in South East Asia and he comes up with a unique way of importing the drugs into the United States. As a result, his product is superior to what is currently available on the street and his prices are lower. His alliance with the New York Mafia ensures his position. It is also the story of a dedicated and honest policeman, Richie Roberts, who heads up a joint narcotics task force with the Federal government. Based on a true story. --IMDb
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: November 6, 2007
When it comes to 'hit or miss', director Ridley Scott is pretty much the king. He has directed some of the most successful and memorable films in history - "Alien", "Blade Runner", "Thelma & Louise", "Black Hawk Down", "Matchstick Men". He has also directed some of the most overrated and uniquely bland films of all-time - "Someone to Watch Over Me", "1492: Conquest of Paradise", "White Squall", "G.I. Jane", "Gladiator", "Hannibal", "Kingdom of Heaven". For his latest film, however, he has been paired with screenwriter Steven Zaillian, who might be the best screenwriter working in Hollywood today. "American Gangster" is the fruit of their collective labors. The Oscar buzz is already filling the air, and reviews have been kind to this film. "American Gangster" follows a long line of crime films, most recently "The Departed" and boasts an incredible cast of Academy Award winning actors. The film also raked in close to $50 million its opening weekend, giving it the best start for a film of its kind ever. That's rather impressive. However, an outstanding start for a film and a cinematic pedigree do not automatically equal a good film. "American Gangster" has all the pieces of the puzzle assembled - the final picture just isn't that captivating.

Based on a true story, "American Gangster" tells the story of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), a determined and hard working man who worked for fifteen years as the driver/collector/friend of Harlem juggernaut Bumpy Johnson (Clarence Williams III). When Bumpy dies, Frank decides that he wants to continue the good works that Bumpy started. However, this takes the form of Frank flying to Thailand and thus beginning his reign as the drug lord of Harlem. The film focuses on Frank as he rises to the top, and on Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), an 'honest' cop who is assigned to head the task force that will bring Lucas down. The film kind of floats in the middle, as we don't ever really see Lucas as either a hero or villain. He loves his family and he loves his city, but he also contributes to death and destruction and addiction like no other. For every good thing he does, he does ten bads things. Russell Crowe's character is also seen neither as hero or villain. Whereas he is an honest cop and does what he thinks is right, his home life is a mess; he doesn't spend time with his son and he can barely get along with his ex-wife. We never see Denzel or Russell on screen together - not until the very end of the film. Throughout the film, we go back and forth between the two men as they both go about their lives in different ways. Josh Brolin co-stars as a crooked cop and the great Chiwetel Ejiofor as Washington's bumbling brother.

The film stars off slowly. The first thirty minutes - nothing really happens. We see Denzel doing his best skulking about, and we see Crowe, doing his best innocent school boy routine. The most exciting parts of the film come in the middle. The opening and closing are kind of boring. And I guess that was part of the reason I disliked "American Gangster" - it was about thirty minutes too long. I also disliked how stock and cliched the film was. How many crime films have the long suffering wife of the cop who just wants what is best for her son? How many crimes films have the bad cop who wants to make life hell for everyone? There are so many crime movie cliches that you forget this was actually based on a true story. I wanted to see more about how Lucas dealt with the psychological and emotional ramifications of what he was doing. I wanted to see more about how Lucas was able to take over Harlem to seamlessly. I could have done without a lot of the other nonsense involving Crowe's partner and Washington's wife. Evidently, a film cannot be engrossing without a romance involved? All it did was take me out of everything. The best scene in the entire film comes when Crowe and his men decide to crack down on an incoming military plane and start taking the thing apart, coffins and all. That scene had a lot of emotion and intensity. Otherwise, it's the same old song and dance we've seen a million time before.

Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe are also receiving a lot of Oscar buzz for their work in the film, but I really didn't find it all that special. I think Crowe was probably more impressive in this film that Washington, especially since Washington is really just evoking the same 'angry man' persona who evokes in just about every film he touches. Crowe breathes a lot of depth and life into his character and turns him into something we haven't seen Crowe do before. But, even with that, I hardly think the performance is Oscar worthy. The best performances in the film come from the supporting actors, especially Ruby Dee as Denzel's mother, who gets a fantastic scene towards the end of the picture; and Josh Brolin, who is back in the acting game again after an absence that lasted a few years. Brolin is so great a playing these sleazy characters - he just inhabits them fully. I also want to mention the great Armand Assante in a nice supporting role, as well. We rarely get to see him take on any serious acting roles any more, so it's always nice when he does. If Washington and Crowe get recognized for their work here, it's depriving someone more deserving in another film, because as fine as they are in their profession, this is not the film to remember them by. Nor is it the film to remember Ridley Scott by. "American Gangster" is just an average film.

All of that said, since the film made near $50 million - I guess the joke's on me. Audiences flocked to see the film in droves. I won't deny the star power and the film's appeal. I won't deny any of that, but I will deny the Oscar buzz because I think it's highly unfounded. Much in the way that Ridley Scott's film "Gladiator" received such mixed buzz. "Gladiator" was another one of those films that made a lot of money at the box office and did very well at the Oscars, but just wasn't one of the more memorable films of recent memory. But, I guess critics and audiences are looking for the first Best Picture contender of the year - the first true one. "American Gangster" is not it. It's overwrought, overdone, overrealized and overrated. It's one of those films that has all of the key elements to success, but just can't seem to capitalize on them. Do I recommend this film? Sure. Why not? It's obviously doing something right. But I don't recommend this film for awards consideration and I don't recommend it for anyone who doesn't want the occasional lull in the action of the film. "American Gangster" is just too boring to be a masterpiece.

Tristan #1: Tristan - added March 15, 2008 at 11:02pm
I don't know if it's because I watched the extended version or not, but the final 2 minutes of this movie was the worst ending sequence I'd ever seen. Maybe it's because I was hoping for something a little more Scorseseish, but I was pretty disappointed by this one. It took 3 hours to tell a pretty boring story, and essentially amounted to a pretty boring watch. 6/10
Nirrad #2: Nirrad - added March 17, 2008 at 3:48pm
You're boring. This movie is great. Eat Me.
Bliss From A Dead Embrace #3: Bliss From A Dead Embrace - added January 30, 2009 at 2:18am
Greatness. Denzel can do no wrong. 10/10
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