The Movie Buffer

Thursday, December 18, 2008

DVD Review: American Gangster


There can be only spoilers


When the phrase “based on a true story” pops up in the trailer for a movie, it always leaves a pang of disbelief in the pit of my stomach. I ask myself, “So what did they make up?” and “What was the real story?” and this one seems to be based loosely on actual events.

American Gangster missed me in theatres because I didn’t think that it was going to be all that interesting. The new crime boss that rises to the top of an empire to be undone by an act of hubris is something that most gangster films involve, so I passed on it. Though, having Ridley Scott as the director did pique my interest.

In recent years there has been a resurgence of Scott in films, after a lull in his career in the 90s. I was interested how he would tackle this subject matter because he was one of the last marquee directors not to have a big budget gangster movie under his belt.

American gangster dives into the lives of heroin kingpin Frank Lucas and the detective who is trying to stop him, Ritchie Roberts. Frank, who was brought up in the old school of organized crime, assumes the mantle of neighborhood boss and ascends to kingpin by devising a new scheme for importing drugs and increasing his influence in the local business.

American Gangster was quickly compared with classic films like Goodfellas, The Godfather, etc., though the movie that is really matches up against is Scarface. Unlike these films, American Gangster lacks artistry and complexity of The Godfather and Goodfellas, and the balls out destructiveness of Scarface. I can appreciate the lack of pretentiousness but a few touches of subtlety would have really jazzed up the picture quite a bit.

For example, Franks rise to power is so quick and veiled it’s no wonder that it all comes crashing down. Though Frank’s drug scheme is pretty clever, wouldn’t the other bosses and gangs have figured out what he was doing in order to maintain their market share? There are plenty of issues like these that could have been resolved with a few scenes but I guess they were over budget or late so explanations were deemed unnecessary.

The limiting factor on American Gangster is that it hasn’t had to stand the test of time like these other movies. We’ll see in 10 years if it survives or not. My guess is not because there is nothing quotable in the film, like Scarface or Goodfellas, and nothing poignant like the Godfather. It’s a decent film but forgettable.


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