A review of “American Gangster” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: R for excessive language and violence

Run Time: 2 hours, 37 minutes

 

 

 

          Ridley Scott pumps up the volume with a gritty, glitzy valentine to the anarchic American drug wars.

          Superstars Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington bring heat to their central roles as a dogged Jersey supercop and the bad-to-the-bone Harlem dealer he’s determined to shake down.

          Based on the true story of drug lord Frank Lucas (Washington), “Gangster” charts Lucas’s trajectory from small-time businessman to millionaire kingpin. Along the way Lucas spouts family values and integrity, sticking close to his roots while viciously gutting the fools who stand in the way of his American dream.

          For his part detective Richie Roberts (Crowe) is marking time as a clean cop in a dirty vice melting pot. Ultimately his gutsy maneuvers and upstanding ethics catch the eye of the big brass and Richie is assigned his very own drug enforcement task force.

          An explosive face-off is inevitable as all roads lead to Lucas. Tension threatens the boiling point as our leads don’t come eye to eye until well into the last act. Kabloom.

          Banner crime saga elements are accounted for – sinister characterizations, 70s-era vibes, crack performances, etc. What’s not to love? Try as I might I couldn’t ignore the fact that Scott brings nothing new to the table, relying on ripe clichés to cobble together a wannabe epic. Stealing and dealing, junkies in freefall, corrupt cops, zzzzz.

          Back to the looove. Crowe and Washington va va voom their way through dark alleyways of misconduct, perfectly in sync with narrative obligations and each others’ thespian cred.

Crowe crackles with reckless veracity in a less engaging subplot and Washington goes full out “Training Day”, chewing it up and spitting it out with sinuously evil intent. Best of show: Denzel pimped out in floor-length chinchilla with matching fur fedora – classic.

          Eye candy aside its business as usual and that’s not good enough. Charismatic A-listers throw Scott a bone but bottom line its been-there, done-that.