Friday, 9 January 2009

Discount Bin Movie Club: American Gangster

You gotta love the post-Xmas Boxing day sales, I got the two disc Special Edition of Ridley Scott's American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe for $5.

The film is a fictionalized version of the rise and fall of Frank Lucas (Washington), Harlem's heroin kingpin, and the fall and rise of Richie Roberts (Crowe), New jersey drug-cop turned prosecutor. Lucas is a bodyguard/driver for Bumpy Johnson, Harlem's legendary crime boss, after Bumpy's death in 1968 Lucas is left adrift until he spots an opportunity. He rapidly builds an empire by going directly to the source of Asian heroin, and brings it into the USA in the coffins of dead soldiers, undercutting his competition with a superior product at a cheaper price.

Roberts is an honest cop surrounded by dishonest cops, he's been branded as an outsider for turning in almost a million dollars in seized money, but this leads to him being recruited for a new federally backed anti-drug squad. Roberts is also struggling through law school, while going through an ugly divorce/custody battle, and trying to keep his head above water despite all the friends and enemies dragging him down.

Both men are likable, but also despicable in their own ways. Lucas is honest, straight shooting, and a true capitalist in that he believes that both sides should profit from any deal, but he's also a ruthless killer, and a peddler of poison that further kills or destroys scores more people on a daily basis. Roberts is also honest and straight shooting, but he can be also be self-righteous, irresponsible with personal relationships, and sometimes even petty. The film doesn't shy away from a complete warts and all view of both men.

The screenplay and direction work well capturing the gritty life of New York and New Jersey in the 1970s, an age where America's most prominent city seemed to be coming apart at the seems from crime, corruption, and social decay. Characters are well fleshed out, with good performances overall, especially from Washington and Crowe, making it one of the best films of the past five years.

My only problem wasn't with the film, but with the DVD itself. It's a phenomenon I find happening a lot in recent "blockbuster" releases where the music and sound-effects are booming loud and the dialogue sounds muffled, in some scenes requiring subtitles just to make out what they're saying. I don't know why this is happening, and you'd think that the studios would want people to be able to make out what the characters are saying.

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