American Gangster (2007)

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American Gangster (2007)

Postby justindeimen » Sun Dec 30, 2007 1:12 pm


Well, we can start with the facts about American Gangster. It is extremely well acted and well produced, and how could it not be with its procession of Hollywood star power and cunning Oscar baits and switches? But it is also the years most insidious and calculatingly well-made trash in its worst form and a stingy guilty pleasure at its best. And it goes to show that the best thing Ridley Scott has done this year remains his final revisit to his sci-fi touchstone, Blade Runner: Final Cut. But considering that American Gangster and its base tropes owe to Scott revisiting the most iconic films of the genre (most notably Serpico, The Godfather and Scarface), it is no wonder that the film retains no measure of suspense or even relative surprise in its derivative drivel.

Epic in runtime and insignificant in scope, Scott owes its commercial success to Denzel Washingtons intense charisma as Frank Lucas and more pointedly to a media enhanced projection of the Gangster lifestyle that he aggrandises by making a drug lords rise through the slums (a loosely held term considering Scotts tendency to adorn the decay of Manhattan with superficial squalor) seem like the most inspirational story of an African-American breaking the mould since Jackie Robinson. The films explicitly offensive idea of progress is a dapper black individual (murderous and manipulative, notwithstanding) breaching the monopoly of South Americans and Italians in the drug trade, all as Lucas underlines his own cruel ambitions in the land of opportunities - "This is my country, this is America". After all, why should he let whitey destroy his community when he can do it just as easily?

It all hinges on Scotts topos that capitalist success derives from ruthlessness and the ponderous criticism of its corrupting power. He equates Lucas hardnosed tenacity that resulted in him cutting out the middlemen and buying raw drugs direct from Indochina with crafting him as the ultimate archetype for the approaching 80s Capitalist Machine. But then Scott indulgently leaves out the fundamental instinct for self-preservation, just another telltale of Scott not being really that interested in Frank Lucas: The Man as he is with Frank Lucas: The Empire Builder.

And lest we forget that corruption pervades all strata in the economic scale, American Gangster introduces for a substantial amount of its bloated runtime, the singularly incorruptible detective Richie Roberts in a concurrent narrative tract (Russell Crowe) whose sole claim to infamy is turning in a trunk filled with a million dollars in unmarked bills, and you know, just being inscrutably honest. If Lucas represents a Machiavellian ideal the film plainly exalts, then Roberts is his clunky counterpart, the ugly symbolic sibling that Scott throws a thousand clichs at and expecting any one to resound with any sort of emotional depth.

If the films most noteworthy aspect is Scotts misrepresented and callous portrayal of a Harlem kingpin then its most subtly egregious move is to present race and hard work as talking points. Its far too complacent in its hype, and far too trivial and literal to attempt any sort of irony in its commentary of a black criminals eventual success using the framework of the American way compared to a white cops bids at honesty.

Re: American Gangster (2007)

Postby arsaib4 » Mon Dec 31, 2007 3:35 am

I could've seen this one for free but I still passed. After suffering through the likes of Hannibal and Kingdom of Heaven, I simply wasn't interested. In fact, to me his younger brother, Tony, has done much more fascinating work recently with Domino and Dj Vu.

Re: American Gangster (2007)

Postby justindeimen » Mon Dec 31, 2007 3:52 am

I was very surprised that not many critics actually wanted to highlight the offensive aggrandising going on here. Whatever happened to the morally upright brigade that routinely and presumptuously rears its head when a (usually smaller, foreign) film dares to intelligently address issues of violence and sex.

Re: American Gangster (2007)

Postby A » Mon Dec 31, 2007 11:25 am

Good review Justin. I think I will have to agree on most points. I went to see this with a firend of mine, and even she got bored by the mass of clichees, and the whole "pimped-up" operation. As usual, Hollywood wnats it "Super Size". Sometimes this was an uninspired rehash of MTV music clips, while at its worse a lame imitation of dozens of gangster flics which have come before. All in all I must say American Gangster seemed like a good hollywood film, although given Ridley Scotts bloated reputation, an expected disappointment. But I would have thought it to be at least a bit more inspired. When I went in, I had completely forgotten that one of the best cameramen working today had lensed the film. During the screening I kept saying, that I was at least enjoying a sexy Denzel Washington (and to a lesser degree Russel Crowe), and the camera (and especially the lighting) was usually above average. It just seemed that Scott often didnt really know how to put it in use. When I read "Harris Savides" at the end credits, I was a bit surprised, as he is certainly capable of much more. When the least appealing thing in a movie is its direction, you know you have to worry.

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