Friday, January 11, 2008

AMERICAN GANGSTER: Intense and Compelling


Cast: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Josh Brolin and Ted Levine Director: Ridley Scott
Time: 155 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? With two Oscar-winning actors in the cast and Ridley Scott at the helm, expectations are invariably high for this movie. It won't disappoint but movie fans will be wishing that there won't be too many cuts from this print.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Set in the 70s, the plot deals with two guys in New York City, a white cop and a black gangster, played by Russell Crowe as Richie Roberts, and Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas, respectively. Richie is best known as the cop who returns US$1 million in bribe money to the authorities, making him a pariah in the force. Transferred to a newly-formed narcotics division, Richie sets his sights on nailing drugs kingpin Lucas, even as he wrestles with his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) over the custody of his son.

Lucas, on the other hand, rises from being a driver for a mobster to Harlem druglord, after securing a heroin deal with the producers in Thailand, shipping out the contraband via his contacts in the military. Soon, Lucas even has the Mafia boss Dominic Canttano (Armand Asssante) working for him.

HITS & MISSES: The sequences involving Lucas are interesting and intense, with lots of insights into the drugs trade and personal angles like his relationship with his wife (Lymari Nadal) and family, especially his mother. Washington fleshes out his character pretty well, both as 'businessman' and 'family man'. And even as the criminal, he gets us rooting for him. One particularly gripping moment has him eliminating a rival in a busy street, whereupon, he returns nonchalantly to his friends at a restaurant. The co-stars, like Ruby Dee as his mother, also put up credible perfs.

Segments involving Richie are rather personal and not as dramatic but the subplot about corrupt cop Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin) can make our blood boil. Brolin takes to the role with relish - suggesting that the title may be more about his cop Trupo than Washington's Lucas.

THE LOWDOWN: All in all, Scott has given us a compelling look at the 'hood gangster' that is markedly different from those of the Italian mobs of "The Godfather".


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