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Dec 18, 2007

Fletch's Film Review: American Gangster

(Ed. note: Procrastination tends to build on itself, and that is surely the case here, as I've been sitting on this review for some time now. Fact of the matter is, I don't have a lot of thoughts regarding American Gangster, so take from that what you will.)

American Gangster is a good movie. No more, no less, really. Though it has little to do with the film itself, I was bothered by the fact that Russell Crowe and Denzel Wasginhton spend less time onscreen together than DeNiro and Pacino did in Heat - a faux pas that can be blamed on either the media or the marketers. The lack of shared screen time doesn't hurt the film terribly, but it certainly hurts its appeal, as what we instead get is a game of cat-and-mouse, with the bulk of the storytelling focusing on the mouse (Washington), Frank Lucas.

Lucas is an interesting choice for a movie character. Though the title and some of the press would have you believe this to be a Scarface-like characterization for the ages, it's really the lack of bravado and violence that sets him apart from your typical mafia-like overlord. Lucas was a professional in almost every sense of the word - smart, calculating and fully aware that showy behavior would put him on the front burner for the cops trying to find out just who was bringing in the large amounts of uncut cocaine to New York - he was the anti-bling before bling was a word. (On a sidenote, Lucas was brilliant with this move, going to Asia to get his supply direct from the source, getting the best product he could provide to his customers while at the same time cutting out the middle man, and therefore his costs.)

Contrasting Lucas is Richie Roberts, the detective played by Crowe. While Lucas is the criminal who looks and acts like a businessman, Roberts is the cop who (by virtue of his being uncorrupted) lives his life more like that of an ex-con - hanging with his old-school mafia friends, parading through women and generally being a deadbeat dad and husband (Carla Gugino has a small role as Roberts' wife). However, when on the job, despite the negative attention it may earn him from his peers, Richie is straight as an arrow and dedicated to his job.

The story doesn't take too many left turns, showcasing the rise and fall (and redemption) of Lucas. The film clocks in at 157 minutes, and surely could have used some trimming, featuring a number of characters/subplots that go nowhere (Richie's partner, Frank's old friend). Also, Josh Brolin leads a group of corrupt cops that more or less harass Lucas, but really don't add much to the tale. Then, with over two hours of buildup, the film ends before you know it, hurriedly rushing through the final 15 minutes to the end credits.

In the end, I felt the things that set American Gangster apart from most mob/gangster movies turned out to be its strengths and its weaknesses simultaneously. You won't find too many cliches or the usual plot devices here (though there is a very Casino-like sequence in which Frank sees the woman of his dreams, the camera locked in on his locked-in gaze, the audience knowing before he speaks to her that he will have her), and there isn't a lot of, well, drama. Washington and Crowe each have their standout moments in overall solid, routine performances, but outside of a scene or two each, there's nothing particularly memorable. The result is a somewhat subdued film that doesn't insult you but also never really grabs you.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you."


3 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: American Gangster"

Sheamus the... said...

you seem a decent fellow...i hate to die.

Janna said...

You had a good review on your blog.

Fletch said...

Janna - Had? Did I screw it up at the end or something? ;)

Shea - "There's something I haven't told you. I...am not left-handed."

Of course, I actually am left-handed.