My Review of “American Gangster”!

AG-Denzel & Crowe 

As a rule I do not buy anything bootleg, especially movies. When you buy a bootleg movie, you are stealing from the studios. But why should I care about the greedy studios making less of a profit? It’s rather simple.

When studios start to lose money through piracy, they only become interested in making safer PG13 fare that appeals to wider audiences in order to make the most money possible opening weekend. As a result, R rated fare for us adults starts to suffer and become scarce.

Look at the wussification of a film like the 1st “Alien vs Predator”. All of the “Alien” and “Predator” films were rated R. But this mash up suddenly became a PG13 affair. Why? Because more people can see a PG13 film instead of an R rated one. And even though I thoroughly enjoyed “Live Free or Die Hard”, it was not really the same as the other films in the series because it was a PG13 flick as well. In an effort to appeal to 13 year old kids we get the whole insulting “Yippe Kai Yay Muther(GUNSHOT)!” bullshit.

So as an adult, it saddens me that movies are getting softer and softer with each passing year.  

My cousin came to my house excited that he got a copy of “American Gangster” and wanted to watch with me. And I did not want any part of it. Bootleg movies are usually low quality, have bad visuals, bad sound, and I wasn’t in the mood to watch people go to the bathroom and obscure the screen while Denzel was doing something important.

But when my cousin put the film on, I was in shock. The movie was damn near DVD quality with perfect surround sound. Someone at Universal is going to lose their job over this.

Needless to say, I saw the entire film. How could I not? The opportunity to see a high quality copy of an unreleased film in the comfort of my living room (a week before it was to come out) was an offer I couldn’t pass up. And I must say while the fact that a high quality workprint leaked before it’s released is unfortunate, I think the film has nothing to worry about.

“American Gangster” is probably one of the best gangster films I have ever seen. And I have seen plenty of them. 

Denzel Washington steals nearly every scene he is in as the enigmatic drug kingpin Frank Lucas. A former driver for the notorious Bumpy Johnson, Frank Lucas makes his own name in the Harlem drug world after the death of Bumpy.

In an effort to provide a spoiler free review, the only thing I will say is that Frank Lucas is no “Scarface” and that is a good thing. “Scarface” is a modern classic because nostalgia factors into it greatly. Many people (mostly men) love the movie. And sure it’s fun to see Tony blow a mountain of coke up his nose and act crazy, but at the end of the day, Tony Montanna was a tacky mutherfucker. Did I just commit a man crime by calling “Scarface” tacky?  

Frank Lucas is the polar opposite. The man has swagger, class, and he is above showboating his wealth and prominence by disavowing the cliched over the top appearance that drug dealers seem to love and live for. This is a man that wears expensive classic suits and mens wear. He also utilizes his brothers and nephews as his hench men. But they are not just expendable henchmen, Frank organizes them all as legitimate businessmen who share in his wealth.

Frank is a man who buys his mother an expensive country home that exudes class. Having his family move into that house is a big “F-You!” to the previous owners because people like Frank’s family were probably working on the property before, not owning it.

Frank also lived a low key non drug dealer lifestyle. He ate at a local diner every morning, spent time with his family, and every Sunday he took his Mother to church. To see how this man operated is almost inspiring in a dangerous way. Because you root for him even when he is flooding the streets with Heroin so potent it is stringing out scores of people in Harlem. And this low key atypical drug dealer life style is what keeps him out of the eye of the law.

But of couse that changes. And this movie also stars a man who can rival Denzel in his starpower, and that is Russell Crowe. “American Gangster” is basically 2 movie in one. One movie is Franks rise to power, while the other is Russel Crowe as Detective Richie Roberts trying to make a name for himself by catching Frank. Both work together well and are equally engaging.  

The movie eventually intertwines and Russell and Denzel finally share a scene about 2 hours and 10 minutes into the movie. Their scenes together are of course what we expect from two of the best actors living right now. Excellent.

The direction by Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”) is pitch perfect. He brings 1970’s New York to life.  And for a film where the titular “Gangster” doesn’t do the typical bang bang, shoot em up stuff seen in other films, there was never a dull moment. 

Cuba Gooding Jr. does a great extended cameo as the uber-flashy Nicky Barnes. Props are also in order for rappers TI, Common, and The RZA for actually doing good acting work. Rappers are usually chastized for trying their hand at acting, but in this movie they brought their A game. This is not a Busta Rhymes “Halloween Resurrection” deal. These guys are good.  

Josh Brolin is also an effective asshole as NYPD Detective Trupo, a man who is so damn crooked you can’t help hating his guts. I must say Ridley Scott has a knack for picking the perfect jackass you enjoy hating as witnessed by Joaquin Phoenix role in Ridley’s other film “Gladiator”.

This movie will be a serious Oscar contender. The direction, writing, and especially acting were all great. I can see both Denzel and Russell getting nominated for Best Actor in the same year again. But this time it would be tricky since it would be for roles in the same film. I don’t know if that ever happened before.

And while I believe that Russell deserved the award in their last head to head for “A Beautiful Mind” (when Denzel won for “Training Day” when he was really a Supporting Actor in that film). I think Denzel has this one hands down. 

Washington’s performance is what brings this film to life. I don’t think any other actor in Hollywood could have portrayed Frank Lucas with the sense of gravitas that Denzel brings to the role.

“American Gangster” opens this Friday November 2nd. You all should go check it out. You won’t be disappointed.