Nice to see this country gets something right for a change. Ignoring the gigantic marketing blitz for BEE MOVIE moviegoers instead chose a gritty violent crime drama and I doubt there are many regrets for it. So let’s take a look at that choice:

AMERICAN GANGSTER (Dir. Ridley Scott, 2007) In this fictionalized account of real events Denzel Washington portrays Frank Lucas, a real life Harlem heroin kingpin in the late 60’s to mid 70’s who was originally from my home-state (he was born in Washington, North Carolina and there are scenes set in Greensboro). Lucas rules the streets by smuggling drugs from Vietnam in soldier’s caskets therefore eliminating the middleman and turning a huge profit. Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe – not as good as in 3:10 TO YUMA but solid nonetheless) is hot on Lucas’s trail and desperately trying to keep his “honest cop” status afloat in a sea of corruption. Rounding out the cast is one such corrupt cop played by a slicker than sin Josh Brolin, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lucas’s brother, Cuba Gooding Jr. in a juicy bit-part, and Ruby Dee as Mama Lucas. Being that it’s Ridley Scott you’ve got to expect at least one shining rain drenched street at night and it’s there in a effective drive-by shooting scene.

There has been criticism of Crowe’s character being given too large a part just so that he could function for audiences as a white counter point to Washington but I think that’s too cynical. Roberts is a necessary real-life figure and he provides us with a lot of the inner-working background while relieving us of an entire movie dominated by Lucas’s scary presence. Not that that would be so bad – Denzel Washington is excellent as ever; all polite power and laid-back cunning confidence but to be honest it’s the kind of performance he could do in his sleep. AMERICAN GANGSTER is getting a lot of unfair comparisons to other mob movie classics such as THE GODFATHER, SCARFACE, and even Blaxploitation touchstone SUPER FLY (the New York Magazine article that the film was based in part on was entitled “The Return Of Superfly”). But these are easy cheap shots though I’ll say as those films go this is more along the lines of DONNIE BRASCO than GOODFELLAS. I don’t predict any Oscar nominations for this film and it most likely won’t make my top ten films of 2007 (there’s too much strong competition) but it’s well crafted, extremely well acted, and offers lots to sink one’s teeth into. So forget that silly Seinfeld-voiced animated bee flick and join your fellow Americans at the multiplex.

More later…

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