American Gangster (2007)
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Review Date: November 15, 2007
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Steven Zaillian
Producers: Ridley Scott, Brian Grazer
Denzel Washington as Frank
Russell Crowe as Richie
Josh Brolin as Trupo
A black dude turns major mafioso in Harlem, NY in the early ‘70s and it’s up to a chubby Jewish Russell Crowe (aka Rowdy Roddy Piper) to figure out a way to make sure that his years of drug-dealin’ and killin’, don’t get paid off in spades. A game of cat-and-mouse ensues, as do errant scenes featuring the lovely Carla Gugino and Crowe going back and forth about their kid. Don’t ask. Oh, and a black gangster flick also ensues!
I’d heard a lot of things about this film before seeing it, and the main two were that it was a “modern day gangster classic”, while the other school of thought framed it as a “been there, done that” type of flick, and after sitting in front of this moving picture for an entire 150 minutes, I have to say that I fall somewhere in between those two thoughts…although much closer to the latter than the “classic” line. Maybe I’ve just seen too many gangster movies, rating GOODFELLAS, THE GODFATHER I & II, THE UNTOUCHABLES and SCARFACE as some of my all-time favorite films, so it’s hard for me to sit down in front of another epic “gangsta” film and expect to be highly entertained. But for what it is, GANGSTER delivers in pacing, interesting plot and general “entertainment value” despite its long-ass runtime (never really feels long), somewhat loosey-goosey storyline (how a ton of cops go down on the “word” of a drug dealer is never explained…wow) and overall feeling of deja-vu. I personally enjoyed the actors more than anything else in this movie and that’s including the nekkid chicks running around a coke lab when the cops break in and blast away (although that’s a close second!), and I guess that doesn’t say much about the story. And maybe this is where my vast experience ‘round the gangster genre bites this film in the ass, as I don’t think there was one instance of “surprise” during my entire screening: “See that guy…he’s likely gonna get it” and poof…two minutes later, he’s dead!

No major twists and turns in this one, folks, particularly for anyone who has seen most major “rags to riches” mafia flicks. That said, it is one of the first “big ones” to give African-Americans the lead in the shenanigans (although one should never discount the always-entertaining NEW JACK CITY!!), and maybe that’s basically what they did here: take a little bit of SCARFACE, add a dash of GOODFELLAS, a little Q&A (mostly via Josh Brolin’s awesome ode to Nick Nolte’s mustache here) and hand it over to the next ethnic group kicking ass in the streets (who’s next, Armenians?). Seriously though, no offense to anyone who considers this flick to be a “modern day classic”, but I could remember only one song coming out of this film, and for a black gangster movie set in the 1970s NY…everyone associated to this production should be ashamed of themselves!! How RZA or Snoop weren’t more greatly involved in this soundtrack blows my mind. This movie had “amazing soundtrack” written all over it, but apparently Ridley Scott decided to shoot it on his “off year” when he wasn’t really concentrating on that or challenging himself in the directing department (nothing particularly standout on that front either).

Dude, call your brother up once in a while…he’ll offer you some spicy camera tricks for kicks. Pet peeves aside though, both Denzel and Crowe delivered as much as they did in VIRTUOSITY (leave me alone!), but it was many of the secondary actors that stood out for me, including the lovely Ruby Dee, who was the only character in the film who managed to make me give a shit about someone for half a second, as well as Brolin, looking, dressing and acting as cool as he could with that giant bush wrapped around his lip, and Armand Assante, who was perfectly cast for his role. Cuba Gooding Jr. on the other hand…yeeeeeesh!! I dug the violent splashes in the movie (but there weren’t enough, in my opinion), appreciated the back-and-forth storytelling between Crowe and Washington, and enjoyed most of the film, because I’m a fan of “crime movies” in general, but straight up…I was expecting much more from this pedigree of folk and this ripe subject manner set in such a “tumultuous” time. Ultimately, I watched, I enjoyed, but I was never truly pulled into the lives of these people and really didn’t care about anyone when all was wrapped (although I gotta admit, I was holding out for a “Gugino tit shot”). Oh, and I also didn’t care much for the ultimate ending, which seemed a little too “vanilla” for such a man. Meh. That said, the scene in which “Amazing Grace” plays in the background as the cops moved in…classic!!
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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