American Gangster

Year: 2007
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Written By: Steven Zaillian, Mark Jacobson (article)

RYAN’S REVIEW

I thought I was wrong about this movie.  I had seen it in the theater and wasn’t overly impressed but assumed I had to have been distracted.  Nobody agreed with me and after so long I began to question my initial judgment.  When I started it for the second time I found that I wasn’t in the mood for it and it sat on our shelf unwatched until I came up with this brilliant idea for a 4th of July themed series of reviews.  I have now given it my best effort.  I literally put in headphones and watched this movie completely consumed.  I gave over 100% of the two most observant senses and gave the film my best effort, in the name of the 4th of July! However, while I can see why this movie appeals to others I just simply hate it.  I feel like it is the most over exaggerated film cashing in on the pretext of being based on a true story. While I can accept that it is a good film I just don’t think there is anything that distinguishes this movie from other gangster films.

I know that this film is based on a true story.  I am from the area Frank Lucas hails from and he was actually interviewed on local radio stations when this movie was coming out. I think it’s really cool to see a movie about a local guy that really hit it big in the seedy underground of New York but I don’t know about his portrayal in the film.  All I’m saying is that Frank Lucas was not the Godfather and this movie is just all wrong for me.  In so many ways it is just more of the same without anything to set it apart.  I am a huge fan of Russell Crowe and I like Ridley Scott as well.  I am not a Denzel Washington fan.  Yet I find with this movie I don’t like Russell Crowe and I actually think Denzel Washington turns in one of his finer performances.

Of course the character of Frank Lucas is the better part. He is part Godfather and part Robin Hood in this film.  Albeit this Robin Hood doesn’t rob from the rich to give to the poor. He offers herion at discounted rates, and this just messes up everything for everyone.  The real mobsters don’t have the same type of quality heroin and they can’t buy it for what Frank Lucas is selling it to the consumer for.  Boo Hoo and Blah Blah.  The mega rich criminals have been robbed of an opportunity to make even more money and they have to pick on the kind and generous Mr. Lucas, who is just trying to do right by everybody with his generous nature, and reasonable rates on HEROIN.  Gotta love the guy, this Frank Lucas is portrayed in a manner that is totally contradictory to his actions.  I do appreciate his sudden and savage violence but that is only there to wake the audience up during what is otherwise a dismal film.  I can’t stand the man with the noble nature who earns his fortune doing something so despicable.  If you are gonna do it that’s one thing, but if you are going to do it you need to be Avon Barksdale or Stringer Bell and not the Don Corleone/Robin Hood we see in this film. No offense to Denzel, I think he was awesome in this part.  I just think the part was a little over the top and poorly written.

Russell Crowe is an actor that never ceases to amaze me, but I just can’t see it with this performance.  Granted he is great, he is a pro all the way and does his job well but I don’t think he does anything exceptional. To start with he plays the kind of character that nobody is going to like.  Who is going to pull for the straight laced cop among all the dirty ones when he is going after a criminal you are set up to pull for? If you want to make Serpico make Serpico, but don’t put so much of the focus in a film like this on him because it throws off the whole film.  I get that this is a story about both men but I think there would have been better angles to take that could have made a better film. You could cut half of Russell Crowe’s scenes and replace them something that builds up a different part of his character and achieved the same result.  There is undoubtedly more to the man than simply his honesty so let’s note his honesty and move on to more of what makes him character worthy. You have to admit a role is bad if Russell Crowe can’t even make something out of it but I’m sure plenty of people will argue the contrary point.

I love gangster movies and typically find something to like about all of them but I have failed to do so here.  I totally immersed myself in the film but cannot find myself wrong in my initial reaction to the film.  I don’t think it does anything at all to distinguish itself and I think it is one of Ridley Scott’s weakest films. Denzel did a great job but he can’t save what just isn’t any good.  I don’t know how accurate this movie is and truthfully I don’t think it matters.  There is too much to the story that we simply don’t see and all this film offers are exaggerated highlights to something that undoubtedly has more to offer. This film threw a bunch of big names on the screen and sold us on the pretext that it was based on a true story.  The key word in that, as always, is “based.” Sure there was a real Frank Lucas, I have heard him on the radio and know it for a fact, but I doubt this is an accurate representation of who the man really was and what he did.

I give this film two thumbs down and regret doubting myself enough to purchase it for the collection. If anybody I know personally is reading this feel free to text me if you want this copy.  I think the movie is so bad I will freely give it to whoever will take it off my hands.  In fact, if I don’t get that message I may just leave it on the curb with a note that says, “take me but watch at your own risk (your time will be wasted).”

Final note on the film: after writing all of this I did the most minimal of research to find that the movie is widely regarded as 99% false.  Basically there was a Frank Lucas and he did sell heroin but beyond that nearly everything you see in this film is false.  That only reinforces the hate I am developing for this film I wasted THREE viewings on.  I can’t bare to have a friend take this off my hands, if you happen to see a copy left on the street with a note on it then you may be looking at the very same one I am about to throw out.

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