Tuesday, 27 November 2007

American Gangster

The late 90's brought us cockney gangster movies like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch - the works of Guy Ritchie. Later on he married Madonna, poor thing, and his good friend Matthew Vaughn introduced Daniel Craig to a wider audience with the stylish thriller, Layer Cake. After a while, though, everyone got fed up with mockney accents and Vinnie Jones pretending to be an actor, so it's no surprise that English director Ridley Scott decided to make an American Gangster movie.

He recruited a couple of Hollywood heavyweights by the names of Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington, who between them have several Academy Awards. This film might just win them a few more, as they play-off against each other in the roles of gang-chief Frank Lucas (Washington) and maverick cop Richie Roberts (Crowe). This film is surely a potential nominee for the Academy to consider.

American Gangster is a film primarily about drugs. The 18 certificate it received is unsurprising given the frequent references to heroin addicton, in a movie that is based on a true story. It also examines the success achieved by Frank Lucas as a result of selling drugs, as well as mirroring a strict structure of rules normally used by the Italian Mafia. The corruption that is rife within the police force plays a telling factor in both the lives of Lucas and Roberts, as they seek avoid the greedy hands of the corrupted.

Frank Lucas creates his Italian Mafia family structure within the confines of the Harlem projects, a housing scheme introduced to America that is commonly referred to as the ghetto. His success is dependant on importing drugs via the army during the Vietnam War, but also on Huey Lucas, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who holds his trust as his right-hand man. Lucas himself, who is only focused and determined on building his empire, doesn't use the drugs that fund his success.

Roberts is charged with the task of tracking Lucas down, but is hindered by the corruption and mistrust that is drowning the legal system. Cash embezzling and drug taking tempt even his own partner, leaving Roberts with only himself to rely on. During these difficult times Roberts' ex-wife is also fighting for custody of his son, causing him even more stress while he battles to bring Lucas down.

The performances of Crowe, and particularly Washington, are superb. Crowe settles into the role of a 70's New York cop with ease. Stereotyping of his Hawaiian shirt-wearing character was abundant, including making his methods unorthodox, but giving him a heart of gold and making sure he gets results! Washington, however, had a more difficult task of portraying such a successful protagonist in a bad light. The way Lucas dresses, the way he lives, even the fact he takes his mother to church every Sunday makes him a very likeable character. The director, Ridley Scott, includes sequences of drug taking that prove Lucas to be a bad apple, supported by Washington's display of a man who will stop at nothing to make money.

Both leading men have their own battles to fight during the film and rarely have anything to do with each other until the end, ultimately coming together to form a thrilling finish. The performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor should be merited, as he becomes more accomplished as a Hollywood actor. His British accent wasn't to be heard as he achieved an American drawl without flaw. I was on the edge of my seat to see if he would break into a good old cockney sing-a-long and it would be a Guy Ritchie gangster flick all over again. Fortunately he stayed with the film title, which proved to be an eye-opening representation of an American Gangster.

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