Written by Films

American Gangster

Ridley Scott is back with a new film which stars Russell Crowe. Now, those with long memories may recall that these two have made films before. First there was the enormously successful, and very good, Gladiator.
And then there was A Good Year. That’s 90 minutes of my life I won’t get back.
Well this time, we’re back to drama, which Scott does rather better, and also onboard is Denzel Washington.
American Gangster tells the true story of Frank Lucas, a black gangster based in Harlem, who took on the Mafia to run his own major drug ring.
Crow plays Detective Richie Roberts, a cop who’s almost too good, who takes on the job of tracking down the drug dealers.
The film takes place over a period from the late sixties through to the mid seventies, and reminds me most of a Martin Scorcese film like Casino or Goodfellas, taking a long look at a particular criminal family. The setting is wonderfully realised, with a dirty Harlem that reminds you of old cop shows.
It’s actually very easy to empathise with Washington’s character, since as well as the Mafia families, there are corrupt cops to take on, as well as the racism of the period. But he’s not good. He might look after his mum, but there’s a vicious streak engendered into him by his previous boss. In one shot, over the Christmas period, we see a junkie having overdosed and died with her baby crawling around her fly-infested body.
And this film has more black characters in it than any film I’ve seen since early Spike Lee films, which is a pleasant surprise. Maybe Scott’s watched some episodes of The Wire.
In many respects this is not the usual fare for Scott. With very few exceptions, there are not glorious vistas for the eye to wander across; instead, much of the action takes place in rooms and in close up. There are no fancy camera shots, and the only CGI in the film is likely to have been employed to remove modern buildings.
I suppose I’d like to see Crowe not play an outsider, but he gives a strong performance. And Washington’s is even better, as the very calm and measured Lucas. The rest of the cast are excellent including Josh Brolin’s nasty New York cop, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Carla Gugino.
Despite the film’s length, the story is fast and you’re never distracted. Thoroughly recommended.