Review of American Gangster

Those of you that know me, know that I am a huge movie buff. I have an extensive DVD collection, am an Oscar historian and I watch a lot of movies. The problem I have noticed in recent years is that movies these days stink. I can’t even tell you how many times in the past few years I have gone to the movies, forked over $11.25 for my ticket, been really excited to see something and was then terribly disappointed. American Gangster is a movie I have been excited about for months now and I finally saw it last night. I have to say I have very mixed feelings about this movie.

This movie had the makings of a true classic to me, a tough New York drug/crime drama that had two powerhouse actors, 2 time Oscar winner Denzel Washington and Oscar winner Russell Crowe (although Crowe should’ve had 2 best actor wins in a row but he was robbed by Denzel when he won for Training Day in 2001 over Crowe’s A Beautiful Mind) plus director Ridley Scott who did Gladiator and Black Hawk Down. I was all set to be thoroughly entertained.

Without giving the movie away to those who haven’t seen it, I will summarize my thoughts like this. Denzel Washington, who I don’t love as an actor, was awesome as Frank Lucas, a Harlem drug lord who was above the Mafia and owned half the cops in Manhattan. This role was clearly written for him and him only and he didn’t disappoint as it would have been tough to do so with a role this cool.

Russell Crowe looked very out of place to me as an honest yet troubled cop with a silly fake American accent and certainly not a New York/New Jersey accent. The development of his character was forced and really contributed to why I didn’t think this movie was as good as it should’ve been. This role could’ve been played by anyone as it wasn’t a starring role that was worthy of a great actor like Crowe.

Throughout the movie, Crowe’s character goes through a completely irrelevant custody battle with his ex wife and they repeatedly show him with many different women which really made no sense to the crux of the film. The parts of the film where they focused on Crowe were certainly the doldrums of the movie. Denzel’s character development was fantastic and it was nice the way they brought his family into it and showed how he rose up through the ranks in 1960’s Harlem and took advantage of his opportunity to be the man. In the end he got greedy and was eventually taken down by Crowe and his team of street cop misfits.

The movie was too long. It ran about 2 hours and 40 minutes and could’ve easily been cut down to 2 hours or even less. This would’ve made the important scenes more profound and there would’ve been less boring and useless filler time. Also, I have read that Crowe and Washington had great chemistry on this film. I am not sure what film those critics were watching as they didn’t even have a scene together until the very end and it was mostly windowdressing at that point. Crowe showed Denzel that he couldn’t be bought and then they worked out a plea for Denzel to snitch. A cool scene but hardly amazing chemistry as I have read.

Anyway, it was an OK/good but certainly not not great movie, it may or may not have been the best film I’ve seen this year but that’s not comparing it to much. The movies this year and the past few years have been awful as a whole and just once I wish I could see someone get it right without dragging a movie on unnecessarily for nearly 3 hours or over Hollywooding the movie. Just tell the story and get to the point using good actors. The biggest names aren’t necessarily always the best. I would kill to see a new great movie like Platoon, Braveheart, Goodfellas or the Godfather. A movie that tells a great story, has amazing character development and doesn’t waste the viewers time.

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  1. I thought this movie wasn’t great at all, it was really slow and just didn’t get me excited. All the hype really let me down in the end. I agree with your assessment that it was good but certainly not great

  2. Lauren Davis says

    Hey Lee, I thought the movie was great. I am surprised you didn’t like it as much. I am also a little biased as I love Denzel. I do agree that the custody battle thing was silly and should have been edited out.

  3. I just came back from trip to India, I had an amazing time there and hats off to the travel Company who planned my itinerary, that allowed me to see most of India my allocated period of 3 weeks.In North India I covered Delhi – Shimla – Manali – Chandigarh – Delhi ,then we headed to South India where we visited Kerala & Trivandrum-Kovalam-Kumarakom-Thekkady-Munnar-Cochin . In East India we visted Calcutta – Darjeeling – Gangtok – Bhubhaneshwar – Puri and finally my trip ended in West India after taking a Grand Tour of Rajasthan .

  4. Didn’t you like Scorsese’s last film with Mat Damon, Jack Nicholson, and DiCaprio? There really are a lot of great films out there – come to Paris to see films! Sometimes the best films just don’t get the distribution they deserve. If you have any independent movie theaters in town, they tend to seek out the sleepers. It’s true if you count on the Hollywood film studios to bring you great films, nine times out of ten, you’ll be disappointed – the great films are out there – BNALL has had some good past threads on favorite travel flicks – I haven’t been disappointed in past suggestions from other BNALL members!

  5. Thanks for the comment Parisgirl, I did enjoy The Departed a lot until the very end. It was as if he just got tired of writing the movie toward the end and just decided to kill everybody and have that cheesy ending with the rat walking across the rail. The movie was fantastic until the ending which I thought was terribly done and could’ve been so much better. I also do love Indy films and do go to see some at the theatres in NYC that carry them but if I don’t know about them its kinda tough.

  6. I haven’t seen this movie yet as I live in Europe but I have seen many films in Paris and there is nothing quite like seeing movies out there, I even went to the Cannes Film Festival last year-it was amazing!

  7. What a disappointment – I was expecting this to be a great movie with all the good reviews I read (apart from the one in the Guardian) and hype, God knows what the reviewers were watching but it certainly bore no resemblance to the film I saw last night. It was far too long, they could have cut out most of the first hour for a start. I couldn’t understand the relevance of a few things which cropped up, not least Russell Crowe’s character’s custody battles with his wife, also some of the casting was a bit ropy (especially the actress who played Frank Lucas’ wife who seemed to be there for her looks rather than her acting ability). Potentially this was an interesting story which could have made a great movie but it ended up being a confused mish mash of a film which was boring rather than scintillating, most people in the cinema I was in were yawning by the 2 hour mark and there was still over half an hour to go. Denzel Washington’s performance was quite good but apart from that the most entertaining thing about the film was spotting the rappers (RZA, T.I, Common etc) in the cast. I would avoidd this film. 5/10

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