American Gangster - Virtuosity Reunion
| For most of its running time, American Gangster is two movies, Serpico and New Jack City, albeit with less violence. The bad news is the two movies donít mesh well. The good news is that once the two leads come together and the film merges its plots, the chemistry explodes and American Gangster finally becomes interesting. Too bad itís only the last 10 minutes of the film.
Denzel is great as drug lord, Frank Lucas. He keeps the larger than life character from being over the top. He balances the almost ridiculous manners of a gang leader in a manner that make him easier to swallow. He and director Scott make Frank likeable and even sympathetic. However, the whole drug lord story line doesnít offer us anything new. This half of American Gangster feels like weíve seen it all before and even Washingtonís great performance doesnít rise above the material.
Russel is also good as the outsider cop who gets lucky and brings Lucas down. However, he isnít able to bring the character above the clichť that he is. His flaws are the kind that movie audiences love and his strengths are annoyingly common. The whole good-cop-fighting-the-corrupt-system story is old and has been told better many times.
Scott, keeps his material in check. He makes a flashy picture that manages to not fly off the handle. But he doesnít manage to create something fascinating. American Gangster feels worn out from the beginning real.
The one thing I can say that I appreciated about American Gangster is how it shows the devastation the organized crime creates. Usually gangster pictures show a lot of bullets, mob hits, crafty murders, but they donít show the way crime eats away at society. Scott, to his credit, presents us with numerous scenes of peopleís lives being destroyed by the drugs our protagonists are fighting over. Itís like a score in the background, constantly there to remind us what this war is about and just how bad we are loosing.
Other than that, American Gangster is mostly standard, run of the mill material. Sure, once Washington and Crowe, who havenít been together on screen since Virtuosity (sorry for bringing that bad memory back), get together on screen American Gangster kicks up a notch. However, the denouement is so rushed that you donít get to savour it.
There is a moment near the end that makes the whole film worth watching. It is a scene with very little dialogue where Crowe comes for Lucas. Itís understated, gorgeous and quite poignant. It saves the film from utter mediocrity.