“American Gangster” a surefire hit with audiences

Jon Baeckstrom ('08)/ Eastside Entertainment Editor

americangangster.jpgWith the general lack of memorable films over the past couple of months, American Gangster is a welcome breath of fresh air. The trio of Ridley Scott, Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe has delivered an exciting, well-executed movie that will likely be talked about again come Oscar season.

The film revolves around the true story of Frank Lucas (Washington), a Harlem drug dealer who, during the 1970s, rises from a neighborhood leader until he becomes more powerful than even the mafia. American Gangster’s other half follows Detective Richie Roberts (Crowe), who tries to bring Lucas down after his partner overdoses on Lucas’ heroin.

Both men gain many enemies throughout the film: Lucas for his sudden monopoly of the Harlem drug dealing business and Roberts for his investigations into crooked cops.

Almost as interesting as either of the stars is Josh Brolin (Grindhouse), who plays the dirty Detective Trupo with such venom that he usurps Lucas as the film’s primary villain.

The introduction of corrupt police officers such as Trupo saves the film, as most of its other themes feel tired and overused. Though Washington deserves to be recognized for his excellent performance as the cool, composed, yet dangerously intense Lucas, it’s nothing that audiences haven’t seen before.

As a result, Crowe’s womanizing, painfully honest Roberts is the more interesting of the two. Washington’s scenes are usually the more flashy ones, but Crowe makes Roberts a more believable, human character than the calculating Lucas and helps to ground the film.

Despite splitting time equally over the two characters, Scott’s film manages to feel like a single, unified movie despite the overall lack of interaction between the two stars.

Unfortunately, though the movie is even, it lacks a real message or driving point. Unlike some classic gangster movies, American Gangster is unable to find its point of view. It glamorizes Lucas’ drug dealing lifestyle, yet condemns the dirty cops who do the same thing, almost creating a sense of hypocrisy.

If anyone deserves an Academy Award for his role in the film it would have to be director Ridley Scott, whose ability to capture potentially award-winning performances from his two superb lead actors while not losing sight of the plot makes the two-hour and forty-minute movie interesting from beginning to end.

Scott also uses violence intelligently, preventing the movie from becoming a gore-fest like Scarface. Brief but brutal scenes of drug addicts overdosing, Lucas carrying out the more violent duties of his job and cringe-inducing fights between cops and dealers keep the viewers on their toes.

Excellent performances by Cuba Gooding Jr., Ruby Dee (as Lucas’s mother), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Talk to Me) make the film even more enjoyable.

Although American Gangster is flawed and occasionally confusing, given all the positive qualities of this tremendously entertaining film, there is no reason to pass this great movie up.

Rating (Out of 4 possible stars): 3.5 stars