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American Gangster - Film Review

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by Juran Hakim (subscribe)
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Published June 18th 2014
Theatrical release poster

The main conventions within films are stereotyped and typically sewn when it comes to the type of genre it is placed in. Though a few films made in recent years have come to shake off this complacency and venture forth to the new and unfound, the majority of films still tend to slot and misplace their own type of genre. Seemingly as though lacking the ingenuity or creativity to come up with a new product that challenges the 'steadfast' conventions.

Although when a film indulges itself within its genre and the conventions that it spurns, a sense of nostalgia can be felt; showing the raw and true-to-form characteristics that should demand to be evident in the narrative. American Gangster directed by Ridley Scott is that exact type of film that meets all the aspects to be a credible gangster production movie.
The film accepts this as a part of its appeal; showing the audience exactly what they will be receiving from the movie just from (e.g.) the simple cover/exterior of the film the director feels as though there is enough to satisfy and indulge the audience even if they know what is to come and what is to be expected.

'Academy Award' nominated crime film American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, (Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts) as the two 'basic' characters. Denzel Washington gives a great performance from the exposition of the film 'consistently' onwards towards the resolution and conclusion of the film. Acting as the main protagonist (viewed the most throughout the scenes), Denzel Washington indeed deserves all credit and applause for his role played, but Russell Crowe does give a very strong performance as well, granting him the respect he deserves in the motion picture.

The film sets itself out to relate to the tough, gangster-esque days of the 70's the 'crack pushing', prostitute, 'get money quick' attitude in which filled the minds of the young and penniless in America's Harlem at that time.

The camera angle is often at a medium/low level during scenes involving Frank Lucas or other crime bosses; looking up at the character, creating a sense of awe and power in which assents the film to be more meaningful and serious, hence the title.

The film focuses a bit on the comparatively ethical business practices of the "wicked gangster" and the womanizing and failed marriage of the "do-gooder" police detective, tipping the scale of attention towards the gangsters and negative aspects of the film, creating more tension and anticipation for the audience knowing that one 'slip-up' found guilty would prove very costly indeed.

"There are two sides to the American dream" (Frank Lucas), which is certainly represented through the plot and narrative in the film American Gangster.

The shots of different classes and ranks of people are evident and apparent when viewing most of the scenes; seeing the rich and 'superfly' mix together in a club in one scene, to then viewing the poor and needy beg for food (etc) in another. The comparisons are bold yet true, even though they reside in the same neighborhood as each other, the differences couldn't be further apart. It's a contrasting picture in which the director paints successfully, showing audiences the reality and yet the indifferences in which was 1970's Harlem.

The story about Frank Lucas is one that proves fact is more interesting than fiction. The fact that such a character really did exist is intriguing and also gives the director plenty of reason to use a rather dramatic approach to this character. The feeling that the director (Ridley Scott) was amazed a person such as Frank Lucas was actually able to do what he did and live to tell about it, shows in the way he chose to develop the character
in certain scenes; the emotions involved when Lucas defies, argues or attacks someone is caught and implemented more so then other characters in the film. As if the director wanted the audience to share that same amazement he felt upon realizing Frank Lucas' story.

The care in which he tells the story serves it well. There is a sense of doom and danger ever present as the viewer knows neither law enforcement, government nor mafia will let this man's (Frank Lucas') drug empire go on. Creating a different aspect to an excellent telling of a true crime story. It's intriguing and certainly entertaining for an audience' viewing.

The soundtrack definitely causes an impact and effect to the thrill of the moment when watching. The action scenes are almost built upon a musical climax due to the soundtrack in which is so balanced, placed and well-timed in the film American Gangster.

Legendary 1960's/70's blues and soul musicians such as Bobby Womack and John Lee Hooker (among others) bring in their originality and creativity to the set of Harlem, in which so fervently and passionately stands out as bringing the streets to life for the audience's indulgence.

Seemingly as though using or utilizing handheld cameras (primarily) throughout the film, the cinematographer (Harris Savides) does seem to keep up pace with the director (Ridley Scott) as though in a "guerrilla filmmaking" style.
American Gangster basis itself on Harlem 'solely', although some shots and visuals were taken in Thailand seen through various uses of skilled editing by the cinematographer, the film's 'basic' plot takes place within New York's Harlem, in which I think emphasizes the workload and diligence put in by the director and cinematographer; keeping the audience embedded and involved within the narrative, even though the environment (mise-en-scene) remains the same.

One of the strongest elements of American Gangster is indeed its story in which is superbly written. From the opening titles of Frank lighting someone on fire, kicking him over and unloading three bullets into his chest, gets the audience anticipating a powerful, meaningful and rather explicit viewing. In which does relate to those more mature viewers, in who like a film with some explicit images etc, and the director certainly adheres to this same audience, shown through the way he chose to develop and represent characters and images in the film.

The gritty realism of the film's directing combined with the performances by the lead and even supporting actors make for a truly fascinating film. The whole film is just filled with wall-to-wall performances that will astound and keep you anticipant for the next scene to unravel. It truly is one of 2007's superbly cast, directed and acted movies.

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Why? Directed by Ridley Scott, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe...why not?
Where: DVD / Blu-ray / On Demand
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