Thursday, April 17, 2008
I am an unabashed Ridley Scott fan. I own 5 of his films and still need to pick up the underrated Black Rain and his classic Alien on DVD. Scott even manages to elevate his lesser material with his skill as a director as in Kingdom of Heaven and Thelma and Louise. I have a distinct feeling that overrated and craptastic Steven Zaillian's screenplay is much to blame here for American Gangster's startling mediocrity.
Our tale is that of Frank Lucas's (Denzel Washington) rise to top of the heroin game in NYC circa 1968. Lucas had great success by going direct to the maker in Thailand and importing it in under the noses of DEA. The other half of the story is about straight arrow cop Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe). Roberts is put in charge of a task force to stop the flow of drugs into the country.
That's probably enough of a setup since there isn't a whole lot of surprises or anything that sets it apart from any other drug/cop stories. Washingston is adequate here although it would have been an interesting to the previously casted Don Cheadle tear into this material. With that being said, Crowe can do this material in his sleep. He and Ridley are good friends and that no doubt drew him to this role, but the fact of the matter he is simply too good for this script. Scott does do a perfect job of casting some of the smaller parts with a TGE personal favorites John Hawkes (Deadwood) and Carla Gugino. Also nice in smaller roles are Ted Levine as Roberts boss and Josh Brolin (who had a Jude Law case of overexposure last year) as a rival cop up to his waist in dirt.
American Gangster is a well made film no question, but there is nothing stand out about it. I'm really surprised how many critics who have lavished this film with praise. With the pedigrees behind this film, I expected more. Don't expect to see American Gangster on my DVD shelf with Blade Runner and Blackhawk Down.