American Gangster 2-Disc Unrated Extended Edition
In American Gangster Ridley Scott has created the perfect storm of an American movie masterpiece. An amazing group of actors, headlined by Denzel Washington and Russel Crowe, produces a very convincing period piece of 1970s New Jersey and New York and the crime culture that existed there. It's hard to feel anything but shame watchig this movie. This movie is both believable and tragic, and it startles me that neither Crowe nor Washington received nominations for two incredible performances.
The Story and the Script
The story is supposed to be based on the real life exploits of Frank Lucas. Movies like this usually exaggerate. The fact that this movie is so believable makes it all the more tragic. There are no black and white characters and we are left to choose between murdering drug pushers and crooked cops.
The writing and the story structure are both excellent. The plot is developed slowly and masterfully. While there is less shooting and action than one would expect from such a tale, the movie is filled with drama and suspense.
They have managed to create a period piece here that is beautiful, gritty, real and romanticized. The framing of the actors and the skylines are beautiful. Much of the scenery and shots are darkly lit. This is most often used in the scenes with the police in their shadowy research rooms, clearly to juxtapose them against the Lucas empire, almost always shown in the light.
The first disk in the unrated edition is in a beautiful widescreen. Don't know why they list this as full-screen, perhaps because there is a full screen version available on the other side. The
Acting and Direction
I don't know whether it's award winning acting or directing that makes the end result so good, but I would be willing to guess that it's both. Denzel is steady and appears to be taking on a similar persona in his recent films. Crowe is more fantastic than even his normal performance, portraying the troubled police investigator caught between a crime ridden New York / New Jersey and the even more criminal Special Investigative Unit.
All the acting is great, and this movie could easily have won for best ensemble cast. Josh Brolin is solid in a limited though well executed part. The directing is textbook mastery.
Bottom line, this movie should have gotten nominated for best actor, best supporting actor, best direction and best picture. It probably should have one a few of those categories. Michael Clayton, Eastern Promises? Give me a break.
The nominations for art direction and for Ruby Dee as best supporting actress in a very limited role were not enough compared to the strength of this movie.
Features and Extras
The unrated extended edition has an entire disk of special features. The making-of extra is not just a featurette, it's a feature-length documentary. You get an in-depth look into every aspect of the film's creation.
There are also three in depth "case-files" on film research, script adaptation and police techniques.
The deleted scenes include an alternate opening sequence. Finally, the theatrical trailer includes writer and director feature commentary. A very nice set of extras indeed.
This is absolutely a masterful , one of the best this year. This DVD needs to be added to your collection.
This viewer rented the DVD form of AMERICAN GANGSTER, having passed it by in the theatrical run, thinking that it was yet another 'crime and corruption in New York' genre film. It was surprising to discover that this very long film (just under three hours in the Unrated version) is completely riveting and in a way far different than the usual gangster film: this story, based on real people as outlined in an article by Mark Jacobson (transformed for the screen by Steven Zaillian), and while it has its share of grisly killings, it seems more concerned with the issues of integrity in the face of police corruption as embodied in the character of Richie Roberts, the etiology of the heroin use escalation following the Vietnam War, and the presence of a 'Black Mafia' lead by one Frank Lucas. It is delivered with compelling gusto and intelligence by director Ridley Scott and has some of the best acting of the year. In other words, this is not a film to be lightly dismissed as a Hollywood retread, but instead it is a tense drama with many very fine points.
Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) follows the footsteps of his idol Bumpy (Clarence Williams III) who 'ran' the Harlem streets, and when Bumpy dies, Lucas inherits his mantle. Lucas is wise, cunning, a gentleman, a powerhouse of ideas, and quickly finds a way to bring the best uncut heroin from the Far East to the streets of New York at a price that undercuts the other mobsters' product. To establish his control he enlists his family, including his brother Huey (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and rapidly becomes the kingpin of the streets.
Simultaneously within the NYPD we meet Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) whose personal life is a mess but who, with his partner Lou (Ted Levine) discovers corruption in the NYPD and more particularly the Drug Enforcement sector of the police: Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin) works with the existing drug lords, grabs their drugs and money and then recycles both to his benefit. During a particular drug bust, Richie and Lou discover a stash of nearly a million dollars and turn the money into the police - a deed that makes the duo seem foolish and lose the respect of their fellow cops but establishes Roberts as a man who is committed to being a good detective.
From these two separate studies the film weaves the development of each character and the interaction between Roberts and Lucas we know will take place. The end result may be known to those who followed the story as it developed in the 1970s, but for those for whom this true story is new information, the resolution of the film is fast-paced, thrilling, illuminating, and just plain fine cinema. Both Washington and Crowe are in peak form, as are those in the many small roles (Ruby Dee, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Lymari Nadal, Carla Gugino, Cuba Gooding etc). This is more of a drama than an action film and while many may feel the final moments of the movie are weak, they do reveal the true ending of the story and say a lot about the narrow line between crime and criminal investigation. This is one of Ridley Scott's most successful films and one that will be around for many years as a model for the medium. Grady Harp, February 08
There's little new in director Ridley Scott's "American Gangster." However, the emphasis on characterization over violent action is refreshing. Denzel Washington gives a compelling performance as real-life Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas, with Russell Crowe equally impressive as New Jersey detective Richie Roberts - the man determined to bring down Lucas' heroin empire. An excellent supporting cast features standout portrayals by Josh Brolin and Oscar-nominated Ruby Dee. Regardless of the predictable outcome, Scott manages to keep the pot boiling for 157 minutes. "American Gangster" does not rank with the classic crime epics, but remains a solid achievement.
on December 11, 2007
we've been here many times before. This film offers nothing new to the genre, but it is still a terrific film.
Ridley Scott is an already proven director who is well overdue for an Oscar, but just what attracted him to this story is something of a mystery. Perhaps being a diverse director with films like the first Alien and Gladiator he wanted to add another genre to his credits and that is admirable (more admirable than Martin Scorsese who keeps making the same film over and over again and then wonders where the Oscar is). However, Scott could have selected a gangster film that didn't include so many tributes to better films in the genre (The Godfather,The Untouchables and Serpico come to mind). In this regard the film disappoints even though Scott directs his great cast in both subtle and stylized fashion. He deserves kudos for his efforts if not for the end result.
Speaking of the cast, it is hard to criticize Crowe and Washington, however, their roles are not very original and Crowe, while good, pales in comparison to the ever-charismatic Washington who is simply playing a variation of his Oscar-winning character in Training Day. Crowe is simply playing a more subdued version of Al Pacino's Serpico role of the honest, but conflicted cop up against criminal elements both within the police force and outside of it and it takes its toll on his personal life. I know much has also been made about Cuba Goodling's cameo role in this film, but there is seriously nothing great here. It's a whole lot of news about nothing really. I do not see Oscar nods for anyone in this film as solid as they are; they just never reach that level of excellence. In fact, I don't see Oscars for this film at all as the plot and characters are too familiar, the film needed editing/trimming, the photography is too often murky (even out of focus at times), and the music was often monotonous or just plain forgettable.
Okay, Steve, then why give four stars to a film in which I have so many negative things to say? Well, as I've said this before in other reviews, just because a film has some significant flaws doesn't mean it isn't entertaining. I greatly enjoyed this film. Washington, while not giving an Oscar-caliber performance this time around, is always compelling to watch. Crowe is sympathetic and believable as the cop out to bring down Washington. In addition, he story does have its clever moments and plot twists and just as Brian DePalma wisely had few scenes in his The Untouchables wherein Eliot Ness (Costner) and Al Capone (DeNiro) actually face off, this film follows in that same vein. Washington and Crowe share very little screen time and in this kind of story that approached worked for which the writers and the director deserve praise. Lastly, while Ridley Scott does nothing boldly new with his entry into this genre, he is a top-notch director who is only a little off his game with this film.
I don't think many will be disappointed with this film if they go into it with lower expectations. I enjoyed it very much and look forward to purchasing it when it's released on DVD. It has good repeat value and I hope the DVD has extras that include background on the true story on which it is loosely based.
Warning: As a parent of a 15 ½ year old and an 11 year old, I'm careful about what my kids view, but I have been known to let them see some R rated films on rare occasions, but only at home where we can talk about what we are viewing. I've recently started seeing some R films with just my son as he is extremely mature and is obviously growing up and out of many PG and PG-13 kind of films. His first really "mature" film was the recent Michael Clayton with George Clooney and he loved that. It's mature in that its both R rated for language and adult content, and is story/character-driven and not propelled by mindless violence and sexuality. This film, American Gangster, was his second mature film. He is a huge Denzel fan and he loves mobster films, so this was a "must-see" for him. While there is no nudity in the brief sex scene in this film, there is considerable nudity as Denzel's character has nude girls make his drug packages. They are nude so that they can't hide any drugs on them. The scenes lack any sexuality to them, but it is nudity just the same (and there is quite a bit of it). As a parent of a middle teen, I was okay with it and my son handled these scenes maturely, but I thought it fair to mention this to other parents who may be in the same boat as myself raising maturing teenagers.
on February 26, 2008
'American Gangster' is the story of Frank Lucas (Washington), the Harlem druglord who began as a driver and bodyguard for the notorious Bumpy Johnson, and ended up controlling a multi-million dollar heroin empire in his peak. Most of the film takes place during the Vietnam War, and without giving too much away, this circumstance plays a major role in Lucas' success. In fact, some may be shocked by the nefarious actions revealed by this aspect of the film. And of course, what's a good gangster flick without the righteous yet down on his luck cop, played here by Crowe, serving as the determined antagonist to Lucas' dreams of grandeur? There are also plenty of crooked cops to go around, and this plays an important role in the story as well.
It is a very well-crafted film, and Washington and Crowe put on remarkable performances as usual, but unfortunately the film doesn't really offer anything new. At bottom, it is just another glamorized rendition of a ruthless criminal figure (who maintains a veneer of respectability) who has claimed his piece of the American pie through crime and brutality. Take Goodfellas, throw it into a pot with New Jack City, add a dash of Serpico, and voila; you have American Gangster. Also, the film is apparently only semi-true, as many liberties have been taken with the story. All in all, a well made film that gangster/cop film buffs will enjoy, but those looking for something deeper will probably not find much here to write home about. 3.5 stars.
on May 29, 2008
This was a decent bio-pic that I for the most part really enjoyed. While it has it's problems, it is worth a watch.
The performances are good, but not outstanding. Washington gave his now standard hard-nosed straight shooter performance we have seen from him many times. While I like him, it would be nice to see some range. Crow also stayed with his normal performance, which has never had range. He managed to take a conflicted character and make him fairly run-of-the-mill. Both men held their role together and didn't negetively affect the movie, but also didn't shine. The only performance I really had a problem with was Brolin. I am of mixed opinions whether the dumbed down, one shade crocked cop was his doing, or the writing. I actually liked Cuba Gooding Jr. in his role. He took an obnoxious character and ran with it, playing it to the hilt. I also really liked Ric Young's performance. He and Washington really played off each other, and you could sense the characters general affection for each other.
The writing itself is passable, but again, doesn't shine. The Brolin sub-plot is down right boring, the crocked ex-partner is un-interesting, and most everything not directly connected to Washington's character feels like a different movie.
What makes this movie more then just a three start run of the mill bio-pic is the story of Bumpy Johnson. The man was interesting, and it is what carries everything. Also, the rise of the Harlem drug trade and the dynamics of the gang control of the area is also fascinating.
As a straight up film, this movie is run of the mill. If you are interested in bio-pics or crime drama, pick this up, otherwise watch it when you have a chance, but don't go out of your way.
Another great movie that will stand out for years to come, so be sure to add it to your DVD library. Inspired by true events, Denzel does an excellent job of actually making the audience feel some 'sympathy' for a murdering gangster! Not an easy task for an actor, or the screenwriters. We are given the story of a working man who only wanted a better life for his entire family, and he does his best to provide the best for them and his wife. However, he was a killer. It is only through the most superb writing and acting that a story like this can evoke the deeply mixed emotions brought to the surface. I believe most viewers will experience the same mixed emotions I did.
Chrissy K. McVay - Author
on March 2, 2009
American Gangster. Emphasis on "American." This is a Horatio Alger story, Harlem-style -- the rise and fall of a drug lord who bests the competition with old-fashioned MBA tactics: a product twice as good at half the price.
The entrepreneur is Frank Lucas, played by wolfishly lean-and-hungry Denzel Washington. His product is "Blue Magic," heroin smuggled to the States from Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War years. In the august American tradition, Lucas manifests his destiny with a little get-up-and-go, innovative marketing/distribution tactics, name-branding, and ends by establishing a business monolith on the streets of New York.
"American Gangster" would make an interesting (if near unwatchable) double-feature with "There Will Be Blood." Both are gruesome, indicting explorations of the American Dream skewed, twisted, and transformed into the American Nightmare. Both examine the Darwinian nature ("red in tooth and claw") of American capitalism -- kill or be killed, survival-of-the-fittest, last man standing. Both feature repulsive yet hypnotic antiheroes whose ambition is matched by their amorality. Both movies are long, violent, and bludgeoning.
Unfortunately, "Gangster" lacks "Blood's" obsessive focus on its main character. Washington is magnetic as the cool but volatile Lucas, while his costar Russell Crowe gets stuck with the perfunctory part of dogged detective on Lucas' trail, the one good cop in a corrupt city. This parallel storyline adds unnecessary poundage to an already flabby script, especially the sub-subplot involving divorce proceedings with the requisitely long-suffering wife. (Perhaps Denzel is getting revenge. Remember a movie from years back called "Virtuosity"? Probably not, but if you do it's only because a young, relatively unknown Aussie named Russell Crowe stole the movie blind from its supposed star, Denzel. Now it's Denzel's turn to slow-burn as the bad guy.)
The viewer has to wade through a whole lot of muck to arrive at the big showdown between Russell and Denzel (I mean, Richie Roberts and Frank Lucas). It's almost worth the wait. Their scenes together have a wit and energy the rest of movie lacks. There's even a suggestion of redemption in the Lucas character who, when Richie asks him if he'd like a drink, answers with a grin, "Holy water." It's too little, too late. The whole movie could have used a sprinkling.
(4.5) Ridley Scott's `American Gangster' has the look and feel of its era. Shot the old-fashioned way, the film brought three films to my mind: `The French Connection,' `The Godfather,' and `Serpico'. They don't make `em like they used to, but Scott really resurrects the seventies in this true tale story of Black organized crime--never told quite this way in movies to my mind. Even the details are transporting: the Nixon and Vietnam broadcasts, Muhammad Ali on a small black and white television, and newly acquired microwaves take us to Harlem and connecting places during that time.
Frank Lewis (Denzel Washington) is smart. His boss, Bumpy, passed away with much fanfare, but gives Frank, his former driver and apprentice, a chance to fill his shoes. Knowing how keep inconspicuous, Frank goes about life business as usual. He is flanked by celebrities and knows to stay away from his heroin operation unless absolutely necessary. Some of the tensest scenes come from confrontations he has with others who draw too much attention to themselves, and much of the violence is on a par with 'Goodfellas'.
On his trail without knowing it, is Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), an officer going to school to become a lawyer. He has everything stacked against him. Like Serpico he refuses to take money from bribes or drug busts, which is very tempting since he has to go to court over custody of his son. His partner seems to go along with him until it is revealed that he is doing drug busts to benefit from the graft. Trying to revamp the entire Drug Enforcement Agency, Richie must face a dishonest fellow officer from New Jersey (Josh Brolin) who as a top drug enforcement official, gains the most from bribes that keep the drug operation on the street. Trying to find new fellow recruits (like John Hawke) that are both honest and competent is a trial in itself.
To keep even more unassuming, Frank makes his own connections to Bankok, where he notes heroin is the purest and a connection is stationed in Vietnam. Noting also that there is a high addiction rate among soldiers helps him to smuggle the smack with relative ease. Also learning a business principle from an appliance store, Frank eliminates the middle man--in more ways than one. This maneuvering also gives Frank more leverage when negotiating with the Italian Mafia, whom he reduces in revenue and importance.
Besides an intricate story, Ridley Scott offers the best aspects of celebrated seventies movies. Denzel Washington is as smooth as ever, and Russell Crowe, Josh Brolin, and Chiwetel Ejiofor are in fine form, especially comparing their other roles this year in '3:10 to Yuma,' `No Country for Old Men,' and `Talk to Me' respectively.
When Frank's family leaves church with the sounds of "Amazing Grace," one can't help but think of `The Godfather' where Michael Carleone (Al Pacino) witnesses his son's baptism as scenes of blood and violence interrupt the images of stained glass and solace in the church. One of the great draws of this film is how it demonstrates so many ironies working together in one true life gangster story. Just like `Traffic` before it, `American Gangster' offers that supply and demand is a mighty tool that can make or break people's lives. As Frank himself says, "Either you're somebody or you're nobody." What I liked so much about the film is that even with the grim contrast between haves and have nots, the movie left me with hope, which is a good way to leave a film. (Based on the book `Return of the Superfly'.)
on February 25, 2008
Great acting, OK directing and terrible writing. Washington, Ejiofor and Crowe and great as usual, Scott seems to be bored and the writing might just be mediocre if it wasn't claimed to be "based on a true story." Among the bizarre claims is that Frank Lucas' collaboration "lead to the conviction of three-quarters of the NY DEA." Reality: zero convictions. He only testified against fellow dealers. Also his relationship with Bumpy Johnson has been falsified. Johnson's widow calls Lucas a liar and the movie false. These are just two of about a half dozen major distortions. Gangster movies are apparently going back to Godfather style fantasy rather than to realism.