Friday, October 26, 2007

Review: American Gangster

American Gangster Review
By Michael O. Powell

American Gangster
is a modern day gangster classic. Russell Crowe plays detective Richie Roberts, reprising the role of flawed enforcer of the law that he showed himself to be so talented at a decade ago in L.A. Confidential, while the equally adept Denzel Washington deviates from fare like Malcolm X, Remember the Titans and Hurricane to play Frank Lucas, a gangster with few redeeming features.

For those that are used to seeing a heroic Washington, Gangster will be a shocker. The first five minutes show a man being dowsed in gasoline, lit on fire and recieving several bullets from an emotionless Lucas. It's not all violence however, and the cartoony nature of Quentin Tarantino and gangster movies like Scarface is totally absent. This is real, it's ugly and it shows the conflicting emotions of the protagonists. Roberts (Russell Crowe) finds himself facing divorce and the possibility of never seeing his son again while he works to take down Lucas, while Lucas gives his mother a new home and tries to protect his wife while remaining a cold-blooded drug lord.

Crowe's acting was solid, and he fit perfectly into the hardened tough-guy with a heart that matches his own personality. Denzel Washington, on the other hand, got really annoying. Some of his worst habits from other movies, like his continued repeating of "Huh?" when talking to someone, were in excess here and made it hard to not look forward to the scene switching to Crowe.

One of the really interesting things about American Gangster is how many rappers are involved. While gangsta rap has been a permanent subgenre in hip-hop for a long time now, there were some surprise guest stars here. A representative of about every aspect of hip-hop shows up in this movie. Conscious rapper Common plays one of Lucas' brothers, while renowned producer RZA plays a cop helping Roberts bring down Lucas. Southern rapper T.I. ironically plays a nephew of Lucas and the son of Common's character. Both RZA and Common have been interviewed in regards to T.I.'s recent arrest.

Two albums are spawning out of this film, one a soundtrack featuring a mix of new songs by Anthony Hamilton and classics by Bobby Womack and others, the other a new album by rap legend Jay-Z inspired by the film. The lead single, "Blue Magic," is entitled with the term used by the characters in the film to the describe the prized commodity they are fighting over. Once I saw American Gangster, I went to iTunes and pre-ordered Jay-Z's album.

Like any classic film, there are some classic quotes in this film. Going away from it, my favorite was by Russell Crowe, which appealed to the libertarian in me, "I'm not sure they really want to stop it. You stop bringing dope into this country and about 100,000 people are going to be out of a job." Those are the perils of creating a bureaucracy to fight a problem.

With a DVD quality bootleg of American Gangster showing up two weeks before the movie is released, it will be interesting to see whether moviegoers stay home or if the leak, which is uncommon for films, results in creating a buzz around the film and around Jay-Z's next album. Whatever happens, this film is definitely an Oscar contender.

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