Ken's Review: American Gangster - Good, But Not 'Ridley Scott' Good
by Ken Evans
November 1, 2007
Over the last three decades director Ridley Scott has brought us some of the best films ever made. His movies are studied throughout film schools across the country. They are so acclaimed and revered that you would be hard pressed to find a "top greatest films list of all time" without at least two or three of his films on it. Alien, Blade Runner, Legend, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and Matchstick Men can all be attributed to his amazing direction. Without a doubt Ridley Scott will go down in history as one of the greatest film directors ever. And so it is with a little bit of disappointment that I write this review.
American Gangster is about the rise and fall of a 1970's Harlem drug dealer and crime boss, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and how he was brought to justice by detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe). Lucas starts as a small time gangster who gets no respect from anyone. Knowing he has to do something to put himself into power, he finds a way to sell a purer form of heroin for half the price. Soon Lucas has more money then he knows what to do with. Not only is he rich, but he starts to put the other crime bosses out of business and into his pocket. At the same time, Richie Roberts has been put in charge of bringing down the major drug dealers in the city. As he digs deeper all roads start to point toward Lucas as the major drug runner in all of New York. Lucas and the men he put in charge start to make a few mistakes, which is all Roberts needs to finally bring Lucas to justice.
Despite solid performances, great cinematography and being well directed, I found American Gangster to be missing something. It was missing that special Ridley Scott stamp that makes his movies so great. If I hadn't known that Ridley directed it before hand, I never would have realized it was him. His earlier films that I mentioned above all had the Ridley Scott feel to them which is what makes you so excited for any film he does. Although 100 times better than Ridley's last film, A Good Year, American Gangster was only above average when compared to some of his other work. It's only even above average when compared to other gangster films.
Denzel Washington was gripping in his portrayal of Frank Lucas. These are the kinds of roles that Denzel needs to stick with. He can nail any character that exudes a powerful personality. I love watching him in roles like Malcom X, Man on Fire, Remember the Titans, and Training Day. Russell Crowe played his part perfectly as well. Unfortunately, the parts where we learn more about him and his personal life seemed to drag and were somewhat boring.
All in all this was an entertaining, although unsatisfying, gangster movie. If you like crime dramas and have already seen Gone Baby Gone, then check out American Gangster. Even if you don't think it's the greatest movie, you won't be disappointed with spending the ticket price to go see it. Maybe Ridley could have done more if he hadn't been held down to following the actual events, since it is a true story. I can't help but compare it to other gangster films and other movies that Ridley has directed. At least it makes up for the disastrous A Good Year which I am still trying to erase from my memory.