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The Essential Guide to Bristol
12 February 2009
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American Gangster (18)

The ViewBristol Review

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Review byMatthew Turner15/11/2007

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 147 mins

American Gangster tells a fascinating story with impeccable production design and two powerhouse performances, but Ridley Scott is no Scorsese and the film never really comes together.

What's it all about?
Based on a true story, American Gangster stars Denzel Washington as Harlem gangster Frank Lucas, who assumes power once his mob boss dies in 1968, thanks to a broad daylight elimination of his biggest rival (a literally wasted Idris Elba). In the following years, Frank keeps a low profile while rising to the top of the New York underworld, undercutting the Mafia's prices by importing heroin straight from the source in Vietnam and shipping it back in U.S. military planes.

Meanwhile, Russell Crowe plays New Jersey cop Richie Roberts, who becomes a laughing stock in his corrupt department when he finds over $1 million in unmarked bills and hands it all in. Assigned to a drugs task force, Roberts spends several years attempting to discover the source of the heroin, which eventually brings him face to face with Lucas.

The Good
Denzel Washington is perfectly cast as Lucas, delivering a performance that puts his natural charisma to good use. Crowe is equally good in a more complex role as Roberts, while there's strong support from Josh Brolin as a corrupt cop.

The Bad
If there's one thing Ridley Scott knows about, it's lighting design, and the film looks extremely impressive throughout. However, it also cheats – remember that terrific point-of-view shot of Denzel lit up by a gunshot in the trailer? Well, it's not in the film – or rather, it is, but only as a post-credits sting.

Unfortunately, Ridley Scott is no Scorsese and he lacks the skills to make the material come alive, often resorting to cheesy montage sequences, such as a laughably bad scene where drug dealers celebrate Thanksgiving while junkies OD in squalid tower blocks. The film is also way too long and drags considerably in the middle section.

Worth seeing?
American Gangster remains watchable thanks to its performances but it fails to engage dramatically and it's nowhere near the classic it should have been. Disappointing.

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American Gangster (18)
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