Last night I had to very good fortune of scoring a ticket to the premiere of American Gangster at the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem which was rigged for DLP and surround sound for the feature. (Nice!) In attendance were director Ridley Scott (5’4”), producer Brian Grazer (110 pounds), Edward James Olmos (Gaff!), Cuba Gooding Jr (on the rebound from Daddy Day Camp), Ruby Dee, Jay Z, Barbra Walters, Brett Ratner (I don’t care what talkbackers think, he’s one of the most genuinely nice Hollywood guys I think I’ve ever met), Puffy (wore his shades during the movie!) and so-handsome-I-could-to-kill-them stars Denzel and Russell. If you don’t know it, general movie-watching in New York and Los Angeles are vastly different experiences than regular movie-going anywhere else, apart perhaps from the Drafthouse, fanboy-type environments. The audience frequently expresses its emotional connection to and appreciation of certain artists by applauding their names during the opening and the closing credits. That is amplified at a premiere where artists’ family and friends are in the audience, anxiously awaiting the appearance of someone’s name superimposed onscreen and then erupting in applause for supporting cast members or the film’s editor. The opening appearance of the Imagine (Grazer’s production company) logo was even reason for applause, but probably mostly because they were the ones who sign checks. Watching American Gangster I was reminded of a story I had read in the excellent making of Bladerunner book “Future Noir” (by Paul Sammon) about Ridley Scott’s production design background and how he would personally throw trash around and spray water on the set to create the visual mood he sought. That stamp of realism is especially effective as Sir Ridley (and his oft-production designer Arthur Max) have done an impeccable job of recreating 1968-1975 New York (and New Jersey ) from the trash-laden street corners to the squalid apartments of housing project junkies to the in-crowd Harlem nightspots. In the same way that critics often call the production design in Bladerunner an actual character in the film – that is what is achieved here. Mild spoilers ahead… Keeping it simple, the story follows the rise of heroin kingpin Frank Lucas (Denzel) and subsequent drug-enforcement police investigation led by Jersey cop Richie Roberts (Crowe). When it comes to business, Frank Lucas is a by-the-book (yet cold-blooded) entrepreneur who stands by his product, a pure-grade heroin he calls “Blue Magic”. At one point Frank comes down hard on a local drug dealers (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) who is chopping up Frank’s 100% heroin and mixing it down with lactose; Frank accuses the dealer of trademark infringement and tells him to stop calling it “Blue Magic”. While other dealers are flaunting the latest fashion styles (fur coats, big hats), Frank is a suit-and-tie businessman who knows how to keep the attention of the police trained on others gangsters. The two lead characters do not meet face-to-face until the final act of the film, which someone last evening described as anti-climactic with its “Frank is caught and its over” ending. Actually what you get is a brief but telling epilogue showing how Frank ratted on all the dirty cops he knew, leading to an astounding notation that three-quarters of the NYPD’s drug enforcement ranks were arrested as a result. Its solid filmmaking from the school of Ridley Scott and another proud addition to his roster (thou shalt not mention A Good Year) and is clearly poised to be the gritty-crime-drama entry into the Oscar race this year. I doubt though that come awards time that American Gangster will ultimately be more than an Oscar-nominated film. For Universal and Imagine it should generate excellent business appealing to the entire cross-section of moviegoers. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Yours, Dorky St. ClaireThere’s one enthusiastic review. Is this next guy just as passionate about it, or did he feel it fell short?
Hey Harry, call me Clemenza. I sent a spy report to you a couple of years back on Ladder 49. The report sucked so you didn't use it. However, I would like to write about something that does not suck, American Gangster. I had a chance to see the film Thursday night in Baltimore. As I stood in line to get into the Charles Theatre, I hoped I was about to see something at least on par with The Departed. Before I say my expectations were met, let me break this film down. I do include spoilers, but as you will read in the review, spoilers do not matter much for this film. First, let me say American Gangster is an apt title for this film, since it seems to embody every major theme expressed in gangster films. There is the father/surrogate father figure. (The Godfather, The Departed, Road to Perdition, and yes, I say Scarface, of 1983, to a degree) The meteoric rise to power. (Scarface, The Godfather Part II's focus on Vito Corleone, The Departed) The money flows like the fish of Capastrano into the pockets of the gangster. (Scarface, sorry for the Dumb and Dumber joke) The idealist, “only good cop of the bunch” cop, gets together a band of incorruptible police to take down the big crime boss. (The Untouchables) The crime boss, who once seems to have it all together, sees the cracks forming in the walls of his once impregnable empire. (The Godfather II, The Departed, Scarface) A big shootout at the end. (All three Godfather films, The Departed, Scarface, Hamlet, not a gangster film but that is where they all get it from) It even has a church prominently displayed during the climax (The Godfather) Okay, stupid first time reviewer, if this film is loaded with every gangster cliche known to Robert De Niro, why should I drop the coin to see it? I can just whip out my classic gangster film DVD's and save a few bucks, budda bing? Well, if that is your opinion allow me to retort. Now, be gracious with me, I am about to use a football analogy. For those who don't know much about football, from Sunday to Sunday, coaches lock themselves in their offices, get wired on their stimulant of choice, and pour over game film. They break down the opposition's strengths, weaknesses, and best plays. Every team knows what the other team is going to do when, so it all comes down to execution. You make the plays even though the other team knows they are coming. Execution is what makes American Gangster worth your time. First, strong visuals are all over the place in this film. Its very first scene reveals exactly what kind of man we are dealing with in Frank Lucas (Denzel). There is the fur coat, Denzel in Southeast Asia, Russel Crowe's walk thru the police station, the Mustang, and the faded look of some shots that reminds you of those faded family pictures from the late 70's and early 80's. The tension never seemed to let up as you watch the paths of Washington and Crowe slowly but surely collide into each other. How does Denzel deal with the crooked cops? How does Crowe realize everything he thought about the most dangerous drug kingpins in New York is dead wrong? You know something bad is about to happen at the Chinese restaurant. Sweet fancy Moses! Crowe is actually going to unzip that bag? Ultimately, this film is about two guys in two separate worlds not much different from each other (a theme touched on in The Departed and the Godfather trilogy). Will their environments overwhelm and defeat them? Or will they escape? Their stories are well fleshed out. Director Ridley Scott takes the time to give these characters broad back- stories without slowing the film down to do so. Every character detail somehow makes the story deeper, from Crowe’s divorce proceedings to Denzel’s Pepsi analogy. All week I was on edge like Elliot Ness waiting to make that big bust on the USA/Canadian border to see this film because of American Gangster’s pedigree. I mean it has bleeping Denzel, Crowe, and the Scott who did Black Hawk Down (what an underrated film). This film has to be great. However, I have learned over the years as my love for film has grown, so does the capacity for disappointment. Spiderman 3?!?!?! How could they do that after the masterpiece that was Spiderman 2?!?!? But, I make this declaration: American Gangster is not a disappointment, but is a worthy addition to the gangster genre hall of fame. Does this film transcend the genre like the first two Godfathers? No (and yes, I do shudder at those whom call the Godfather films, gangster movies, it is like calling Bach’s work, weird piano music). However, you will find this film is on par with The Departed, and maybe better. Scarface? This film is better, cockroaches. Goodfellas? Not as fresh, original, or as well crafted (still this ranks just below Ridley’s best work). Miller’s Crossing and Road to Perdition? Oh yeah, it beats those like Frazier beat Ali in their first fight. In other words, American Gangster is most definitely a well polished, cool as all getup, vintage Mustang, that doesn't blow up on Thanksgiving (just watch the movie and you will understand). Clemenza
Oct. 22, 2007, 2:58 a.m. CST
I'll always give it a look and it does sound intriguing.
Oct. 22, 2007, 3 a.m. CST
by Shady Drifter
This sounds amazing!!
Oct. 22, 2007, 3:02 a.m. CST
Oct. 22, 2007, 3:42 a.m. CST
Please don't confuse a Ridley Scott film with a Spiderman Film.... Thats really all that needs saild
Oct. 22, 2007, 5:28 a.m. CST
movie mention in review is Miller's Crossing. / Black Hawk Down almost looks like it was directed by Ridleys brother. That cool color palette which they used doesn't fit into serious war movie
Oct. 22, 2007, 5:30 a.m. CST
Golly wiz, Denzel... try something new... another dakota fanning movie perhaps.
Oct. 22, 2007, 5:44 a.m. CST
It's ridders directing. Nuff said. I'll forgive him 'A Good Year'. Just about all his films are solid and worth seeing, unlike some MTV hacks out there.
Oct. 22, 2007, 6:44 a.m. CST
They made this movie look like a corny hackjob. The slo-mo, fade in/fade out, cheesy edits. I've seen this movie's dumb trailer too many times to count and didn't even want to watch actual movie. Mori, I trust your opinion and if your review is glowing, that's the only reason I'll see this. <p> I hope the cop wins at the end. I hate movies that glorify gangsters (like the trailer hinted, the way he bought his mama a big house with blood money).
Oct. 22, 2007, 7:13 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
Crowe spends the whole movie trying to get even with Washington, who he claims stole his Oscar. Actually it should be good seeing these two greats work together if the script is any good. Most modern day gangster movies are cookie cutter, and don't stand out or have anything original. I hope this one does.
Oct. 22, 2007, 7:18 a.m. CST
Hollywood's favorite fall-back "serious" movie-the Gangster film. "The Departed" last year and now this. Oh well, at least its not another Heist film- the other fall-back plot. Denzel Washington is definitely in the Jack Nicholson/Al Pacino mode- playing the same guy in every movie.
Oct. 22, 2007, 7:53 a.m. CST
by Osmosis Jones
Oct. 22, 2007, 8 a.m. CST
I can only hope this movie increases awareness of VIRTUOUSITY a thoroughly shitty and extremely fun film. Also Russell Crowe back when he was still a prettyboy. <p> P.S. I've seen no one mention yet the large percentage of the cast in AMERICAN GANGSTER being played by rappers. I'm curious in particular how RZA and Common do as I think they both have potential as actors.
Oct. 22, 2007, 8:34 a.m. CST
by Nice Marmot
. . . I'm pumped to see it just because it's Ridley directing Denzel and Russell. Despite that, there still hasn't been a trailer or preview that has appealed to me. They make it look like a tired step backwards into the 90's. It looks like they are trying to attract the good ol' N.W.A. listening to, fighting in the parking lot afterwards crowd. It almost looks like a stylish remake of New Jack City (throws up in mouth). And I don't know why I get annoyed when I see Common, who you know was just dying to get into those retro duds, walking around in Denzel's gang. But, all bitching aside, I repeat, it's Ridley directing Denzel and Russell, so I'm there opening weekend.
Oct. 22, 2007, 10:31 a.m. CST
done two things that I've enjoy. Master and Commander. And his tv show Fightin round the world, with Tugger!
Oct. 22, 2007, 10:35 a.m. CST
was the BOMB in Ricochet! Too bad Lithgow stole that movie. Prison sword fighting with Jesse the Body Ventura, Bad ass.
Oct. 22, 2007, 10:44 a.m. CST
..."They make it look like a tired step backwards into the 90's. It looks like they are trying to attract the good ol' N.W.A. listening to, fighting in the parking lot afterwards crowd" what exactly are you "implying" with statement... Anyways I'm most definitely going to check this out, I thought The Departed was waayyyy overrated. And that this will be the masterpiece that should have been.
Oct. 22, 2007, 11:37 a.m. CST
...because it's ruined his career. 3:10 TO YUMA was a great film that no one went to see, and let's hope AMERICAN GANGSTER doesn't suffer the same fate. Also a good movie - A GOOD YEAR, another Crowe/Scott team-up. And yeah, Denzel does seem to be using some old tricks - that fist pump of anger isn't quite as thrilling the second time around. ;)
Oct. 22, 2007, 4:34 p.m. CST
by Osmosis Jones
I think it's passed $50 million so far, which is EXCEPTIONAL for a Western these days.
Oct. 22, 2007, 5:09 p.m. CST
... was awesome. Cris Rock alone is worth the price of admission.
Oct. 23, 2007, 1:03 a.m. CST
What does that make...? Three over a 25-year career? It's always nice to see him actually try something a little different, even if he's handsome and smooth in this role, too.
Oct. 23, 2007, 3:05 a.m. CST
That's what all these early reviews have been saying. It'll make money, get a couple nominations, but I was expecting more. Oh well.
Oct. 23, 2007, 4:41 a.m. CST
so... another film title beginning with "American" - will the gangster be as good as the beauty, the psycho, or the graffiti? how bout the ninja? or the pie?
Oct. 23, 2007, 2:46 p.m. CST
by Darth Thoth
I'm pumped to see this!
Oct. 24, 2007, 7:11 a.m. CST
What about Carla Gugino. Her part is no doubt a small one, but my insistent little friend demands to know! He can't be reasoned with.
Oct. 24, 2007, 8:12 p.m. CST
Jack Nicholson does NOT play the same role in every movie. How does a rebellious upstart in Cuckoo's Nest = half-dead retiree in About Schmidt = obsessive compulsive neurotic in As Good As It Gets = rich play boy in Something's Gotta Give = the Joker in Batman? Yeah, ok buddy. Denzel, on the other hand, seems to play a lot of detectives/investigators (Out of Time, Inside Man, Fallen, The Bone Collector, The Siege, Courage Under Fire, Devil in a Blue Dress, Virtuosity, The Pelican Brief, Deja Vu) ... and father/authority figures (Malcolm X, Antwone Fisher, John Q, Remember the Titans, Crimson Tide, Preacher's Wife, The Hurricane, He Got Game). I'd say this most recent role fits into the latter category. And, yes, Al Pacino is always playing the mysterious leader who can really yell
Oct. 26, 2007, 6:28 a.m. CST
by bob villain
Just saw this; limp performances , shallow characterisation, uninspired dialogue, overly obvious use of music and background TV for period setting. The quality of the writing and acting doesn't come close to the standard of The Wire, The Shield, Scarface, Goodfellas, Blow or Carlito's Way. Apart from the deservedly beloved Alien and Bladerunner I'm not sure if Ridley's really got a clue how to tell a story. There's more tension in The Bill.