American Gangster

Good but not Great, 21 November 2007

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

By any measure this is a fine film and certainly one of Ridley Scott’s best. One of his great strengths, is his ability to create a sense of “place”, and 60s/70s New York is faithfully, and affectionately, re-created. Clever use of archive news footage of the Vietnam war is interwoven into the story line in seamless style.

Denzel Washington, as Gangster Frank lucas, and Russell Crowe as Cop Ritchie Roberts, play an accomplished double hander which aspires to, but doesn’t quite match or surpass, De Niro and Pacino in “Heat”.The “French Connection” is overtly name checked, and visually alluded to as it competes with esteemed company such as “Goodfellas”and “Serpico” as well as the aforementioned in this well stocked genre.

Washington gives arguably his finest performance as an understated black gangster (I didn’t realise that was possible!)who makes good selling heroin whilst supporting his brothers, cousins, mother and other members of his extended family.Ritchie Roberts by contrast is portrayed as having a dysfunctional home life.

For once the wealth of drug trafficking is not shown without cost.The human carnage is painfully depicted – a million miles away from “heroin chic”. The running time of almost 2 3/4 hours is fully justified as the carefully constructed plot comes to its climax.

So why does it fall short? Well really only by the standards of the competition. The dramatic intensity of the personal duel between De Niro and Pacino in “Heat” is missing, but only because Lucas character is super cool. And the Shakespearean sense of tragedy and impending doom so magnificently evoked by De Palma in “Carlitos Way” is similarly absent.

Based on a true story the denouement where Lucas plea bargains to take down the bent cops is a bit of a plot turn when Roberts avowed intent was to get the big guys – and the Vietnam Military traffickers just disappear off the horizon.Frustrating and unsatisfactory.

Nonetheless a worthy movie that I suspect will stand the test of time

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