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  Publicity Stills of "America Gangster"
(Courtesy from UIP)

Genre: Drama/Crime
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Josh Brolin, Armand Assante, RZA, John Ortiz, John Hawkes, Ted Levine, Common
RunTime: 2 hrs 37 mins
Released By: UIP
Rating: M18 (Drug Content and Some Nudity)
Official Website: www.americagangster.net

Opening Day: 10 January 2008


Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Brian Grazer, Steve Zaillian and Ridley Scott team to tell the true juggernaut success story of a cult hero from the streets of 1970s Harlem in "American Gangster."

Nobody used to notice Frank Lucas (Oscar® winner Washington), the quiet driver to one of the inner city's leading black crime bosses. But when his boss suddenly dies, Frank exploits the opening in the power structure to build his own empire and create his own version of the American Dream. Through ingenuity and a strict business ethic, he comes to rule the inner-city drug trade, flooding the streets with a purer product at a better price. Lucas outplays all of the leading crime syndicates and becomes not only one of the city's mainline corrupters, but part of its circle of legit civic superstars.

Richie Roberts (Oscar® winner Crowe) is an outcast cop close enough to the streets to feel a shift of control in the drug underworld. Roberts believes someone is climbing the rungs above the known Mafia families and starts to suspect that a black power player has come from nowhere to dominate the scene. Both Lucas and Roberts share a rigorous ethical code that sets them apart from their own colleagues, making them lone figures on opposite sides of the law. The destinies of these two men will become intertwined as they approach a confrontation where only one of them can come out on top.

Movie Review:

Well, we can start with the facts about “American Gangster”. It is extremely well acted and well produced, and how could it not be with its procession of Hollywood star power and cunning Oscar baits and switches? But it is also the year’s most insidious and calculatingly well-made trash in its worst form and a stingy guilty pleasure at its best. And it goes to show that the best thing Ridley Scott has done this year remains his ‘final’ revisit to his sci-fi touchstone, “Blade Runner: Final Cut”. But considering that “American Gangster” and its base tropes owe to Scott revisiting the most iconic films of the genre (most notably “Serpico”, “The Godfather” and “Scarface”), it is no wonder that the film retains no measure of suspense or even relative surprise in its derivative drivel.

Epic in runtime and insignificant in scope, Scott owes its commercial success to Denzel Washington’s intense charisma as Frank Lucas and more pointedly to a media enhanced projection of the Gangster lifestyle that he aggrandises by making a drug lord’s rise through the slums (a loosely held term considering Scott’s tendency to adorn the decay of Manhattan with superficial squalor) seem like the most inspirational story of an African-American breaking the mould since Jackie Robinson. The film’s explicitly offensive idea of progress is a dapper black individual (murderous and manipulative, notwithstanding) breaching the monopoly of South Americans and Italians in the drug trade, all as Lucas underlines his own cruel ambitions in the land of opportunities - "This is my country, this is America". After all, why should he let whitey destroy his community when he can do it just as easily?

It all hinges on Scott’s topos that capitalist success derives from ruthlessness and the ponderous criticism of its corrupting power. He equates Lucas’ hardnosed tenacity that resulted in him cutting out the middlemen and buying raw drugs direct from Indochina with crafting him as the ultimate archetype for the approaching 80s’ Capitalist Machine. But then Scott indulgently leaves out the fundamental instinct for self-preservation, just another telltale of Scott not being really that interested in Frank Lucas: The Man as he is with Frank Lucas: The Empire Builder.

And lest we forget that corruption pervades all strata in the economic scale, “American Gangster” introduces for a substantial amount of its bloated runtime, the singularly incorruptible detective Richie Roberts in a concurrent narrative tract (Russell Crowe) whose sole claim to infamy is turning in a trunk filled with a million dollars in unmarked bills, and you know, just being inscrutably honest. If Lucas represents a Machiavellian ideal the film plainly exalts, then Roberts is his clunky counterpart, the ugly symbolic sibling that Scott throws a thousand clichés at and expecting any one to resound with any sort of emotional depth.

If the film’s most noteworthy aspect is Scott’s misrepresented and callous portrayal of a Harlem kingpin then its most subtly egregious move is to present race and hard work as talking points. It’s far too complacent in its hype, and far too trivial and literal to attempt any sort of irony in its commentary of a black criminal’s eventual success using the framework of the American way compared to a white cop’s bids at honesty.

Movie Rating:

(Swings and roundabouts, a film that degradingly panders without acknowledging the responsibility of its individuals)

Review by Justin Deimen


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