Communicator (communicator) wrote,
Communicator
communicator

American Gangster

I went to see this last night because I love Ridley Scott! And Russell Crowe! And you never regret watching Denzel Washington, do you? But it didn't set me on fire in any way*, and I thought pretty hard about why, because there's a choice cast and the individual scenes are beautifully shot. I think I've figured it out.

This is an old-fashioned Hollywood rags to riches Biopic, like they used to have in the forties and fifties. It tells the story of a real life, through a series of fairly conventional scenes: Washington learns from his mentor, his mentor dies, he defeats his rival (NB his Rival is Idris Elba - see what I mean about a choice cast). He becomes wealthy. He hob-nobs in night clubs (red carpet, flashbulbs, famous namechecks). He sees a beautiful woman in a fur coat and you know he will marry her. He marries her. His family loyalty is both tried and tested. he stands alone. And so on. They are all the same.

Meanwhile in an equally conventional sub-plot a cop finds that his marriage breaks up because he spends too much time on the job! And womanising! Whatever will they think of next?

Why has Ridley Scott chosen this dull genre? In my opinion Scott was bowled over by the real life story of Frank Lucas, who rose from poverty to personally out-manoeuvre both the New York Mafia and the New York DEA (he literally took them all down with him). It's a brilliant story, and it plays against this undertow of the Vietnam war and urban decadence.

I think Scott made the mistake of thinking 'I've got to convey this brilliant story to my audience'. But it would have made a better book than film. A life doesn't have the right structure for a film; it's too baggy and meaningless. Instead (IMHO) the film should have concentrated on one or two crucial events, and played them up into massive filmic experiences. And the two events that interested me are these: Frank Lucas goes alone into the jungle in the middle of the Vietnam War and negotiates directly with an opium warlord. More of this please. And secondly, Russell Crowe as the cop, firstly interrogating Washington (more of this please), and then later (this last thrown away in an on-screen caption) resigning from the police and defending him in court. He did what now? Frickin hell! This is the film we want to see!

* - (edited to add) well, in one way it did - Russell Crowe is now fairly pudgy and middle aged, and in my opinion he was never that good looking, and he has appalling seventies clothes and hair in this. But he is also sex on legs. He's amazing.
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