The Red Right Hand
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AMERICAN GANGSTER

Director
Ridley Scott

Starring
Denzel Washington
Russell Crowe
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Josh Brolin

Set during the Vietnam conflict, this is the true story of Frank Lucas' [Washington] rise to power as the sole drug lord of New York and Richie Roberts' [Crowe] mounting case against him. There seems to be a quiet mass of cinema-goers who say this film is slow, boring or unoriginal; incidentally these are also the kind of people who would turn their nose up at some of cinema's greatest numbers but to be honest, I sort of side with them. I realise that's very unlike me but I felt this film was very poorly marketed; the poster campaign was commendable but the TV/online trailers were a little misleading, duping the public into believing this film to be some sort of shoot-em-up, as opposed to the Bladerunner-paced jewel that it is.

The opening scenes were pitch-perfect, with a crooked law enforcement attitude that completely reminded me of Serpico. There is, however, one flaw which knocked this film down from a 9 to an 8 (for me, at least). I know this is going to sound ignorantly disposable and possibly a little dismissive but American Gangster was a little generic. It was very well done, granted, but remains a fairly steady tale of progression and deconstruction. All the clichés are present and accounted for, gap in the crime world filled by the bright young up-and-coming criminal, the womanising, crappy father honest cop, the evil crooked cops, etc, the list goes on. Thankfully, the whole thing is well portrayed but an underlying predictability remains that sullies an otherwise fine arrangement. Having said that, this could be Scott's chance to claim that prized Directorial Oscar but I wouldn't hold my breath for best picture - I doubt the Academy will award a gangster film two years running, that grace will probably go to No Country For Old Men.

Taking a minute to analyse the cast would be a feat in of itself, for the first twenty minutes I just kept watching famous names and faces slide in and out of view with grand style and flare. Every performance was riveting and full of depth; Chiwetel Ejiofor furthered his on-going greatness with another astounding belter, as did Josh Brolin but, naturally, this film is carried on the wings of Academy Award winning legends Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. American Gangster will no doubt be drawn into comparative light with The Departed but this is a mistake. This film follows a clear line of the rise and fall of a gangster, similar to Goodfellas whereas the structure and pace of the film closely resembles L.A. Confidential or Blow; either way, this is an exceptional piece that will be immensely enjoyed by all fans of gangster flicks.

Release Date:
16th November 2007

The Scene To Look Out For:
During the peak of Lucas' success he casts aside his own advice and arrives at the big '71 fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, with ring-side seats, better than the heads of the Italian families. It's this act (and more importantly a large, hideous, striped fur coat) that gets him noticed by the cops and sets him on a path to complete downfall.

Notable Characters:
Lymari Nadal plays Frank Lucas' wife, Puerto Rican beauty queen, Eva. I can't quite explain why but her presence and performance seemed so incredibly lack-lustre that I genuinely didn't care for her at all. It just reminded me of all those closing shots from the trailer for We Own The Night: screens roll up proudly claiming Academy Award Nominee: Joaquin Phoenix, Academy Award Nominee: Mark Wahlberg, Academy Award Winner: Robert Duvall ...and Eva Mendes in a bodice. She seems out of place and out of her cinematic depth. She may be a fantastic actress and was clearly cast for good reason but among such bright lights, she appears just a little bit dim.

Highlighted Quote:
"A successful black man like yourself? You represent progress. The kind of progress that's gonna see them lose a whole lot of money; and with you bars, everything can go back to normal"

In A Few Words:
"I wouldn't say this film is as wondrous as its being heralded but it is still a fine example of Ridley Scott's genius"

Total Score:
8/10


Matthew Stogdon