Monday, 17 March 2008
I cracked open the DVD of American Gangster, which I missed at the cinema. First dilemma was that there were two versions of the film, apparently with different endings. Conservatively, I decided to go for the original movie theatre version, which is also some 18 minutes shorter than the re-cut version.
It's Ridley Scott directing Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in a pseudo true story about the rise of black gangster Frank Lucas. As a Harlem based gangster, he buys heroin direct from Bangkok creating a New York street price that upsets the Mafia. The police are on the take except messily honourable New Jersey cop Crowe, whose job is to reel in these bad folk.
Washington plays Lucas as a princely, if cold blooded hoodlum; I suspect the real version was somewhat rougher around the edges. Strangely, the 'chasing Lucas plotline' only comes out quite late in the film, so the usual 'cat and mouse' aspects are missing.
There's some rise to fame scenes, Thailand jungle moments, bribed US military drug shipments, a lower order criminal who gives the game away and then an intercepted military transport plane which is dismantled a la French Connection. The drugs turn out to be in the base of the coffins being carried back from Vietnam and then there's a heavy duty raid on the drug manufacturing plant in the Projects of Harlem.
Its shot in a sort of seventies brown, no doubt for atmosphere, but if I'm honest I found it to be okay rather than great. I think there have been other films across this territory, both mafioso based and rootin-tootin cop thrillers. Consequently I found this well acted but sort of tame and formulaic. Probably a bit long, too. Even the section leading up to the discovery of the two tons of heroin packed into the presumably somewhat heavy coffins I found laboured.
I suppose a lot of this story has been done in other films so many of the scenes had a slight 'paint by numbers' feel. I know that Bourne, Godfathers, Goodfellas, LA Confidential and similar have genre components, but they all seemed to have some extra grip or zing that I found missing from this one.
I've still got the other version to watch, but I think it could be some time before I come back to this Hollywood Blockbuster. Meantime, I see ex members of NYC DEA have raised a class action lawsuit against Universal for the film's allegations of corruption in New York.