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The Gangster Collection: (American Gangster / Casino / Eastern Promises)
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Contains The Movies Jarhead And The Kingdom
Ridley Scott puts on his "sweeping saga" gameface again, this time not for the sci-fi vistas of Blade Runner or the ancient world of Gladiator but for an urban epic. American Gangster gives the story of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), a real-life Harlem crime lord who built an empire on Southeast Asian heroin in the 1970s. Running parallel to Lucas's somewhat standard story is the investigation led by a persistent New Jersey cop, Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe). Roberts is a more interesting character than Lucas--too honest for his own good, unlucky in his personal life--and this kind of character, easily patronized by others, fits Crowe like a polyester shirt. Scott's tendency to hit his points square on the noggin is much in evidence here, including the typecasting of the supporting roles and the predictable Serpico atmosphere of the whole thing. (And speaking of supporting actors, the film needs more Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose role as a Lucas sidekick feels cut down.) It succeeds as a kind of chewy entertainment, fueled by the presence of two big stars working their muscles. Both Washington and Crowe look pretty brawny here. --Robert Horton
Director Martin Scorsese reunites with members of his GoodFellas gang (writer Nicholas Pileggi; actors Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Frank Vincent) for a three-hour epic about the rise and fall of mobster Sam "Ace" Rothstein (De Niro), a character based on real-life gangster Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal. (It's modeled after on Wiseguy and GoodFellas and Pileggi's true crime book Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas.) Through Rothstein, the picture tells the story of how the Mafia seized, and finally lost control of, Las Vegas gambling. The first hour plays like a fascinating documentary, intricately detailing the inner workings of Vegas casinos. Sharon Stone is the stand out among the actors; she nabbed an Oscar nomination for her role as the voracious Ginger, the glitzy call girl who becomes Rothstein's wife. The film is not as fast paced or gripping as Scorsese's earlier gangster pictures (Mean Streets and GoodFellas), but it's still absorbing. And, hey--it's Scorsese! --Jim Emerson
David Cronenberg's signature obsessions flower in Eastern Promises, a stunning look at violence, responsibility, and skin. Near Christmastime in London, a baby is born to a teenage junkie--an event that leads a midwife (Naomi Watts) into the world of the Russian mob. Central to this world is an ambitious enforcer (Viggo Mortensen) who's lately buddied up with the reckless son (Vincent Cassel) of a mob boss (Armin Mueller-Stahl, doing his benign-sinister thing). Screenwriter Steve Knight also wrote Dirty Pretty Things, and in some ways this is a companion piece to that film, though utterly different in style. The plot is classical to the point of being familiar, but Cronenberg doesn't allow anything to become sentimental; he and his peerless cinematographer Peter Suschitzky take a cool, controlled approach to this story. Because of that, when the movie erupts in its (relatively brief) violence, it's genuinely shocking. Cronenberg really puts the viewer through it, as though to shame the easy purveyors of pulp violence--nobody will cheer when the blood runs in this film. Still, Eastern Promises has a furtive humor, nicely conveyed in Viggo Mortensen's highly original performance. Covered in tattoos, his body a scroll depicting his personal history of violence, Mortensen conveys a subtle blend of resolve and lost-ness. He's a true, haunting mystery man. --Robert Horton
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