I not long ago finished watching the extended cut of Ridley Scott’s rightly-acclaimed American Gangster, and although I see no point in calling this a review after already giving my opinion on the Theatrical version…I would like to add that I think this version, although long (I watched it in two sittings, one laaaate last night, the other this afternoon) is my preferred version, as it adds more flashbacks to Frank Lucas’ mentoring with his boss Bumpy Johnson, which I think add a whole lot to the movie – and overall I think I enjoyed the film more this time around.
Both cuts don’t differ that much, so if all you have seen is the theatrical version, then thats all well and good and you’re not missing a great deal – but if you are approaching American Gangster for the first time, seek out the 2 disk special edition which has both cuts of the film…and make your own mind up.
This epic gangster tale follows the true story of small time Harlem gangster Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) who during the 70s lead the market in drug trafficking in New York, soon becoming more wealthy and respected than even the Mafia. Hot on his heels is Russell Crowe as Richie Roberts, one of the few remaining incorruptible Cops in New York who finds himself battling the drug dealers and his fellow cops too ready to take payment and turn a blind eye.
Although rather complex (and at times a little vague with the details), this atmospheric movie still pulled me in with Denzel’s as expected power-house performance as the charismatic Frank Lucas, as well as Crowe’s surprisingly softer edged Richie proving he doesn’t need to play hard men to deliver the goods.
Even though director Ridley Scott is not normally the person I would associate with this sort of story (that honour would normally go to Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee), I am happy to report that he has made an intelligent and gripping film that is shot through with his usual superb attention to detail (New York is transformed wonderfully into the 70s and you don’t doubt it for a second). Saying that, I feel that like Scorsese’s Goodfellas / Casino the film would have benefited from a voice over (probably from Crowe’s character). Also for this material the film is pretty tame when it comes to violence, although still disturbing during its drug taking sequences and the fact Lucas smuggled back heroine in dead Marines coffins. Shudder. Also some of the other characters are a little wafer thin, especially Cuba Gooding Jnr’s rival gangster whose presence brings little to proceedings, verging on the pointless.
Overall though, this is well worth your time and proves once again that Denzel Washington is one of the best around and Ridley Scott just doesn’t know how to make a bad film, even if he isn’t quite the master of the gangster pic just yet.
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