Saturday, 27 October 2007

American Gangster

Walking out of American Gangster I found myself very conflicted. It's an epic story well told with some great performances but — and it turned out to a big but — it didn't excite me. (It also didn't feel like a Ridley Scott film, but that's a different matter entirely.) Perhaps it was because I've seen its story of a drug dealer's meteoric rise (and eventual fall) plenty of times before in other movies that I left the cinema strangely muted. It's not that American Gangster is a bad film. Far from it, in fact. A lot of time, effort and money has been poured into this project and that craftsmanship is certainly all up on the screen. Shortly afterwards, however, I started to see internet soothsayers start talking about it as an Oscar cert, a definite Best Picture nomination, and I thought, okay, maybe it's just me. Then Todd McCarthy's Variety review appeared and I realised it wasn't. __"American Gangster," McCarthy writes, "wants to be a great epic crime saga so badly you can feel it. The true story at its core -- of the rise, fall and redemption of a '70s-era Harlem drug lord — is so terrific, it's amazing it wasn't put onscreen long ago, and it would be difficult today to find two better actors to pit against one another, as hoodlum and cop, respectively, than Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. With so many elements going for it, this big, fat Universal release is absorbing, exciting at times and undeniably entertaining, and is poised to be a major commercial hit. But great it's not. Memories of numerous classics hang over this film like banners commemorating past championship teams — The Godfather, Serpico, Prince of the City, Scarface and Goodfellas, among other modern-era crime-pic landmarks. Like most of those, this is a quintessential New York story, one you feel could have been the basis for a Sidney Lumet masterpiece. But while American Gangster is made with consummate professionalism on every level, it just doesn't quite feel like the real deal; it delivers, but doesn't soar."

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