By Ryan Parsons | Images property of Universal Pictures.
Finally, after 12 years, a filmmaker was finally able to recapture the magic of Virtuosity. Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe are together again, and American Gangster fulfills all the promise suggested by their previous sci-fi collaboration.
American Gangster Review
It's half Serpico and half Goodfellas, telling parallel stories of Frank Lucas (Washington)'s rise to dominance in the drug trade in the '70s, and Detective Richie Roberts' pursuit of Lucas. I love movies where Denzel Washington doesn't triumph over adversity and this sure is it.
To me, the detective story was way more interesting. Roberts is a total badass, in charge with bravado. He projects power to thugs and handles his sh*t, dealing with tough practical situations, and all his babes. How Lucas imported drugs is old news.
It feels like a '70s movie, not just because of the period detail. The film stock looks washed out like the '70s, and the sense that each story could go anywhere. They could be subtle changes to the case or the kingpin lifestyle, or big catastrophes that shatter everything.
Washington goes Joe Pesci violent, but keeps his cool. He gets more and more Pesci as the film progresses, and seems to do a little Pacino near the end. But hey, at least he doesn't triumph over adversity.
The musical score and period soundtrack are used appropriately, alternating so it's not just a greatest hits collection, but never telegraphing the emotion. They could hint at Taps or a club beat as appropriate, but it's subtle.
American Gangster is full of powerful drama. There's family drama with broken homes and taking care of one's own with ill gotten gains. All the kinks of the procedure, be it investigation or importation, provide interesting dilemmas.
It is visually exciting with all the motions of each side in the real world, on the streets. Shootouts explode like Gladiator battles but never in the operatic sense. It's the excitement of reality.
American Gangster is a definitive cops and crime movie, in that it defines every element of each genre and executes it expertly. And again, for the record, Denzel Washington does NOT triumph over adversity.