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Overall Rating

Awesome: 10.61%
Worth A Look59.09%
Average: 25.76%
Pretty Bad: 1.52%
Total Crap: 3.03%

5 reviews, 36 user ratings

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American Gangster
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by brianorndorf

"Denzel Washington is afraid to act"
4 stars

Studying Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster,” it’s impossible to repudiate its style, criminal swagger, and sweaty-palmed hunt for justice; it’s a big-budgeted procession of star power and expansive storytelling. The drawback seems to be the picture’s often perplexing gravitational pull to complete inertia.

Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) was raised in the shadow of crime, keeping in line with his elder hoodlums, learning the ways of the business. Now ready to take over, Lucas travels to the conflict in Vietnam in search of pure heroin to bring to the New York City streets, employing a serpentine sense of restrain to best suit his needs while he rose to success and created an empire. Detective Ritchie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is a clean cop on a dirty force, looking to rid the city of narcotics. Unexpectedly led to Lucas’s streets, Roberts mounts a full-scale investigation, piecing together a case bit by bit to bring the kingpin to justice.

The first thing detected in “American Gangster” is the picture’s self-discipline. Ridley Scott is not a filmmaker known for his delicate ways, often electing a full fireworks display when only a charcoal snake is necessary. “Gangster” shows the filmmaker turning a corner in his career, dialing down his penchant for overstated theatrics and treating Lucas’s journey with muted respect. It’s classic storytelling, setting aside his instincts and traditionally lush color pallet to stay focused on the paralleling plots, delighting in the way they smash into each other dramatically, not visually.

Yes, “Gangster” is a film you’ve seen before: “Blow” with serious coin, “Scarface” with better suits, or any other drug-centric saga that takes the viewer on a ride through time and swelling power. Scott doesn’t challenge the material as much as allows it space, which, over the 150-minute running time, can become a little sluggish. It’s a sprawling epic with crooked cops, finger-snap turns of gunfire, and family issues, but nothing requires the film to be this long. An easy 20 minutes could’ve been shorn without anyone missing the beats, but Scott is in this for the long run, and I can’t discourage a habitual style-abuser his moment of repentance.

I could sit here and write about specific scenes that thrilled me, but, again, they are familiar sights: Frank exerting his power or Ritchie grabbing that crucial clue. It’s pure routine, but Scott has an amazing eye for the details, and that extends to the performances as much as it does to the globe-trotting narrative.

I’ve been critical of Denzel Washington’s acting efforts before, and I still feel the performer has a profound fear of stretching. “Gangster” plays to Washington’s strengths of resolute blunt force and thousand-dollar-suit charm. He’s become the John Wayne of his generation: perfecting his one acting face of mild displeasure and sticking to his guns the rest of his career.

Russell Crowe has the more fluid role, accepted by an actor who desires an opening to tinker with various personalities. Ritchie is an unusually mousy character for Crowe, but his performance discovers the right contrast between constant vocational do-goodery and the shambles of his personal life, which flame out through neglectful parenting and one-night-stands. Crowe also is allowed the more procedural moments of the film, which involve the audience more than Frank’s distancing and familiar high-life.

“American Gangster” is a dependable crime saga that neither disappoints nor challenges the genre. It’s steady Hollywood storytelling from a former directorial master, acted with aplomb by two superstars, and tangos with enough ice cold criminal idolatry to fuel at least ten rap albums.

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originally posted: 11/02/07 17:50:22
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell solid true crime story 4 stars
1/14/10 Samantha P great acting, this movie has a great look to it 4 stars
12/27/09 Jeff Wilder The story's nothing new. But Scott's direction and Washington and Crowe make it quite good. 4 stars
7/20/09 RLan More of a three and a half star rating. A decent movie, but nothing special. 4 stars
2/03/09 Matt Wanders at times, could use some trimming, but overall quite engrossing 3 stars
11/12/08 Michael M 2nd half of the movie wasn't suspenseful, but good as a whole, and definitley worth seeing. 3 stars
10/19/08 daveyt not exactly genre busting but v well acted and produced. Expected more visually from Scott 4 stars
10/16/08 Monday Morning Exceeded expectations for pace, storyline, acting. Could have been cut by 1/2 hr. tho. 4 stars
7/16/08 Farnsy Why the hell is Russell Crowe in this movie? 3 stars
6/27/08 Rabbits O Southern Shallow, pretensious rubbish...just saying 1 stars
3/31/08 R.W. Welch A pro piece of work all around -- and mostly true. 4 stars
3/03/08 ladavies No Soul. I did love Josh Brolin and Ruby Dee. 3 stars
2/04/08 Advantus Although not accurate according to Nicky Barnes it was a powerful movie on the drug trade. 4 stars
2/03/08 ad style over substance it is. Cheesy ending 2 stars
1/07/08 reptilesni Denzel sleepwalks through yet another movie. Never lived up to promise shown in Glory. 3 stars
12/18/07 Quigley Good acting, but nothing to get too excited over. Had some gruesome and disturbing scenes 4 stars
12/13/07 William Goss Thoroughly detailed and convincingly acted, but undeniably workmanlike. 3 stars
12/10/07 Wendell Maness Its hard to believe a person of his race could make 250 million- he was a lowlife 4 stars
12/06/07 MP Bartley Engrossing, but we've all been here before. 4 stars
11/29/07 Alice Good acting, good movie. 4 stars
11/19/07 stain amazing 5 stars
11/19/07 Agabus1128 It appears to be a compiltation of several gangster films we have already seen. NJC, GdFthr 3 stars
11/11/07 mr.mike not as gripping as it should have been , and a few unconvincing detours. 3 stars
11/10/07 John Some parts like when he shoots the guy in the head are just plain dumb. 3 stars
11/09/07 Random Black Mafia has always gotten short shrift on its history. This is especially relevant. 5 stars
11/09/07 Jefenator Not a masterpiece but it's a solid, competent film. DW and RC are good. 4 stars
11/09/07 kp too choppy and underdeveloped characters. worst gangster movie i have ever seen. 1 stars
11/06/07 el sordo It's not original, but it is well done 4 stars
11/06/07 Deb A masterpiece, much more original than some critics realize 5 stars
11/04/07 damalc amazing acting from top to bottom, should win sag award for cast 4 stars
11/04/07 D Excellent movie. Best i've seen so far this year. 5 stars
11/03/07 Obi Wan Great movie, great acting....MUST SEE 5 stars
11/03/07 Ole Man Bourbon Really good movie. Not over-the-top silly like many may wish for. 5 stars
11/03/07 action movie fan good acting and atmosphere-but goes nowhere-same thing over and over again-end is good 3 stars
11/03/07 Buttley I smell Oscar nominations! 5 stars
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  02-Nov-2007 (R)
  DVD: 19-Feb-2008



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