a critiQal film review American Gangster (2007)

Plot: Frank (Washington) has created a drug empire - and has managed to portray himself as a legit businessman at the same time. But, will outcast cop Richie (Crowe) bring down Frank's empire?

Reviewed
738 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 41s)

Since last Saturday was my birthday, I was planning on going to see a movie in the theaters – that is, until I received “The X-Files”: The Ultimate Collection. After that, the weekend was spent catching up on Season 1. Of course, I figured it would just be a weekend off from the site…but I was again hooked on “The X-Files”, and that one weekend has now stretched to an entire week (during which I polished off Season 2 as well).

But, I’m back, and what better way to kick things off than a review of the latest gangster film from Ridley Scott, American Gangster! I’d wanted to see this back in theaters, but dragging my lazy butt out of the house seems to be harder and harder the older I get. Ha! Seriously, I’m not sure why Heather and I didn’t see this one in theaters – it’s probably more due to the fact that she doesn’t like crime dramas as much as I do. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t wait to see this one when it hit DVD. Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington in a Ridley Scott film? Count me in!

Denzel Washington does a very good job in his role in American Gangster. While viewers will be abhorred by the way his character makes his fortune (drug dealing), they may come to admire him somewhat for his ingenuity. A drug-dealing, gun-toting dealer is a hard character to get the audience to appreciate, but Denzel has always had a knack for bringing the viewers in, no matter what character he’s playing. That serves him well in American Gangster.

The character is a bit unnerving, especially in scenes where he gets up from having breakfast with some of his family, walks down the street and – in full view of the family – shoots and kills a rival at point-blank range before heading back to the diner and continuing his breakfast. These two sides – the family man and the gangster – are hard to put together, but Denzel manages to weave the two together so tightly the character is entirely believable in either role.

Russell Crowe, who seems to have peaked back with isn’t too much of a disappointment in American Gangster. Sure, he doesn’t bring off the role with the same skill that he showcased in , but he does bring enough to the table to make his scenes interesting. While he doesn’t really seem to be a worthy rival to the charismatic Frank, Crowe’s character does have a dogged determination about him that lets the viewers know he’s going to track the guy down. Sure, there probably won’t be an explosive confrontation between the two, but the police work Crowe’s character is doing will be enough to get Frank, nonetheless.

Like Crowe’s character, American Gangster is less about the flash and dazzle, and more about the gritty details. Even Denzel’s character isn’t flashy – he in fact mentions at one point he’s trying to stay low-key and off the radar – and the film is the same way. Not a lot of high-paced action sequences, instead it’s about the little things (like the scene mentioned above). Quick flashes of violence show what Frank is capable of without really increasing the slow pace of the film.

If the viewer goes in expecting tons of action and a fast paced film, American Gangster is bound to disappoint. Throwing off the norm, American Gangster, like Crowe’s character, builds it’s case slowly. This way, it allows the viewer more insight in to the motives pushing these characters, allowing the viewers to really connect, rather than just see them as good guy/bad guy.

When the end inevitably arrives, it’s not with a bang, but rather with a more personal interrogation scene that is partially wasted. It’s almost a let down after the lengthy slow build, even though the viewer expects it from miles away.

American Gangster, while still involving violence, is more of a performance piece for Washington and Crowe than one might expect going in. Don’t go in thinking this one is Goodfellas or Scarface. It’s more a personal story of one man making it big through inventive yet illegal ways, and the high and low points of that lifestyle.

If you’re into biographical stories, American Gangster, which is based on a true story after all, would be right up your alley – and is definitely worth a look.

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