Directed by Ridley Scott.
Written by Steve Zaillian. Based on an article by Mark
Starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.
Release Year: 2007
Review Date: 11/2/07
Even the most pessimistic of film fans would
have to admit--Ridley Scott has done some of America's most popular
and enduring mainstream films ever, even if they didn't start out as
mainstream work. "Alien", "GI Jane", "Blade Runner", "Thelma &
Down"...man, he has touched quite a few people over the years.
The last couple Scott films haven't done the job (I still have scary
dreams about "Matchstick Men"), but with "American Gangster", the ol'
Ridley Scott you used to know has come home.
That's because "American Gangster" gets back
to what the man knows best--strong ensemble casts, brutal violence,
lots of unnecessary profanity, themes that you will recognize from
the jump but still embrace thanks to how well they are done, and a
general feeling that this film is for adults, adults who can
appreciate a retread in terms of a story but has just enough new
angles and little pieces of insight that you can sit back and enjoy
the show. "American Gangster" is as unoriginal as its name
implies--a gangster (Denzel Washington, back in bad guy mode for the
first time since
"Training Day") who happens to be American runs 1969 Harlem like
the mob ran things downtown, be it drugs, paying off cops,
racketeering, money laundering, you name it. We get so many
token shots of drugs being grown, measured, packaged, stored, cut,
boiled on spoons, handled by half-naked women and thrown into
baggies that I basically ran through at least 30 movies I have seen
with THE EXACT SAME FUCKING SEQUENCES starting with "New Jack City"
and coming right into the present; shit, I just saw
the Night" and you almost think that these drug scenes were
stolen from that movie, they were so familiar.
(I had to admit on the way home tonight--I'm
clean as a whistle. Never done any kinds of drugs, never been
drunk, never smoked a cigarette; never done a thing. But, even
I know how to cut cocaine to the point that I can dilute the product
to be about 30% pure and sell it for street market price, thanks to
the power of the movies.)
As familiar as this hook is, there's enough
of a wrinkle here or there (Denzel Washington! Drugs coming
from Vietnam, not South America! Black mobsters, not Italian
ones!) to keep "American Gangster" moving. Wow, so much of
this kind of filmmaking is hackneyed and ridiculous...New York City
is the home of the action (check); half the cops in the movie are
dirty (check); the lead gangster owns a nightclub (check); the cop's
flaws are that he is going through a divorce (check); a drive-by
shooting is attempted on a major character (check); I could keep
going for days. But, the execution of the film is so good, and
the familiar faces so familiar, and the soundtrack is so strong, and
the ending is actually somewhat unique...I can't figure it out, but
it made me think that "American Gangster" was pretty good!
That's because Washington and co-star
Russell Crowe (who last worked with Washington in--you guessed
it--"Virtuosity" a hundred years ago) lead an incredible cast.
There are so many rappers in this movie that I wondered aloud why
every black person in the music business couldn't get a role in this
movie; you telling me we couldn't find a rapper to replace Cuba
Gooding Jr. or Joe Morton? No WAY! If you've got room
for T.I., the RZA, and Common, you've got room for more rappers.
Trust me! But, even folks like Carla Gugino, or Jon Polito, or
Idris Elba (from "The Wire") show up in small parts in "American
Gangster", and when you add that to the cream at the top, boy,
you've got some top-flight talent. The movie gets good mileage
from its 197X timeframe; the costumes, the cars, the little in-jokes
about things like microwaves or wiretaps that are the size of a
phone book...it all works, and creates a great setting for familiar
All of this ends up being a 150-minute ride,
one that is generally very entertaining to watch. I don't
think this is good enough to end up in Oscar's back pocket, but it's
got a lot going for it. Check it out!
Rating: $9.50 Show
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard