Friday, November 16, 2007

AMERICAN GANGSTER - handsome but heartless

Either you're somebody, or you ain't nobody.AMERICAN GANGSTER is a handsomely produced, engrossing police procedural. But it fails to create characters, dialogue and emotional story arcs that draw you in and capture the collective consciousness.

Ridley Scott and Harry Savides have created a movie that oozes authenticity with it's detailed rendering of 1970s Harlem projects. Real-life heroin dealer Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington, slips through these rough streets with a cool confidence that is magnetic. He eschews the super-fly pimp stylings of lesser black criminals such as Nicky Black (Cuba Gooding Junior) or his own younger brother (Chiwetel Ejiofor). This is because Lucas is smart, and less a gangster than a businessman. He supplies a product that is twice as potent than the competition for less than half the price, because he goes straight to the supplier and cuts out the middle-man. Naturally, this puts the traditional Italian mobsters out of business so he cuts them in. But they work for him. He controls the mob.

Lucas gets away with it because of his restraint, his self-control and the endemic corruption of the New York DEA, epitomised in Josh Brolin's sleazy rozzer, Detective Trupo. But he slips up when he wears a flashy chinchilla coat to a a boxing match and is seen to have better seats than mob bosses. This brings Lucas into the sights of New Jersey's one honest cop, Richie Roberts, played by Russell Crowe in a middling performance. Roberts is in many ways a more interesting character than Lucas. Lucas comes to us fully formed - fully in control - fully unquestioning. He is a family man. A business man. But also a ruthless killer. Roberts is more complicated. He clings to his honesty in police matters but is an adulterer going through a messy divorce. He is flawed, but driven, and yet, somehow, Crowe never really made him live for me.

AMERICAN GANGSTER is a long film but never drags. I was hooked on seeing the net close in on Lucas, and thrilled to see the good cop and smart dope dealer unite in the final frame to sit on the real scum - the rozzers. The production design and cinematography is excellent. But this is not an epic movie as the portentious title might suggest. The movie has no heart. There is no family treachery, no conflicted love story, no crisis of conscience, at the movie's heart. In fact, I think this film is slick but ultimately disposable.

AMERICAN GANGSTER is on release in the US, UK, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Canada, Estonia, Lithuania, Belgiu, France, Germany, Portugal and Iceland. It opens on November 23rd in Norway and Sweden. It opens in December in Russia, Greece, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain and the Czech Republic. It opens in January 2008 in Denmark, Argentina, Australia, Hungary, Singapore, Italy, Mexico, Egypt, Brazil, Finland and Turkey. It opens in Japan in February.

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