Saturday, November 10, 2007

American Gangster

Someone (Patrick) told me that American Gangster was Ridley Scott's best film since Blade Runner. "Really?" I asked.


"I don't know..."

"Seriously," I was told again.

And so I looked it up and IMDb and, lo and behold, it seems as though American Gangster probably is the best film that Ridley Scott has directed since Blade Runner. I mean really? Gladiator is pretty much the only one that might stack up and it was pretty good, but it wasn't a masterpiece. Was American Gangster a masterpiece? I don't know, but it was pretty damn good.

It felt very much to me like a very clever mix of Sidney Lumet's Serpico and The Godfather, had Martin Scorsese directed it. I think that's about the best I can sum up the style, tone and story of the film. Perhaps the fact that it shared a time period with all the great cop movies of the seventies helped me along with enjoying the film. I seem to have a stigma about films set in the immediate here and now, but that's my personal problem.

Anyhow, I think the film still has a couple of problems. And the problem with the problems is that they aren't easily fixed. The story is large. Very large. Incredibly ambitious, even. And to tell it right from both perspectives that Scott does, you simply have to fracture the narrative in order to accomodate the story but then the film seems really choppy. Now it seems as though a way to fix that problem would be to pick a character to tell the story from and tell it from their perspective solely. But the problem with that is that if you just do Russell Crowe, you just get a cheap Serpico knock off, you do Denzel Washington and you get the Godfather set in Harlem about thirty years later. It doesn't work without both stories.

The other major problem that I'm not sure how it could be fixed right off the bat is that none of the side characters had an real meaningful personality or screentime. That's the great thing about, say, a Scorsese movie, all of the side characters are as colorful (or more) than all of the main characters and so, even if your movie sucked, you were treated to a wonderful assortment of characters.

This film really had too much in it to delve into them, which makes me a little sad.

Overall, this is a terribly solid film. It's nothing I would buy on DVD or anything, but I would agree with the assessment that it's Ridley Scott's best film since Blade Runner. Don't beleive me? Seriously, check out his IMDb profile.

On a sidenote, I'd like to bitch about a couple of things that are really starting to piss me off at the movies:

1) Don't put fucking TV commercials or National Guard music videos on the beginning of movies. It just pisses people off. I paid money for my seat, I don't want to see commercials. If I wanted commercials I'd watch TV. I don't watch TV and I'll start passing on movie theatres that keep running Coke and Vault and Fandango commercials.

It's just obnoxious.

2) Turn off your fucking phone during films. Some jackass in front of me was text messaging half the movie. Seriously, the world can do without you for a couple of hours. (If you're the sort who text messages through a movie, the world can probably just do without you altogether, but that's neither here nor there.)

But yeah, that's obnoxious, too.

To sum up: American Gangster: Pretty Good, I really liked it.


Steven said...

Hey, your opinion about how "large, very large" films should be told from one character's POV... Star Wars, an apparent epic, told from one character's POV?

In other words, would this be a similar flaw with Star Wars?

And what about Josh Brolin's side character being meaningful and having screentime? What about Denzel's mom? Great side characters and well acted.

I didn't see either of your critiques as problems at all.

The only problem I had was the first 20 minutes offered little in the "who's in charge, who vs. who, what's at stake" category that most films of this genre establish. I was confused for the first part of the first act.

Derek said...

Oh, you know Bryan? Heh.

Aside from his innability to accept flaws in Star Wars, or rate a film as highly, I generally agree with some (maybe a lot) of his reviews, and I was looking forward to this. Glad it's good. Glad it's great! I'll see this...someday.

Bryan said...

Well, the thing with Star Wars, Steve, is that even though it is an epic and largely not told through a single persons eyes, it's all the same story.

The first 2/3rds of American Gangster seem like disjointed halves of two different films until the last third.

And I said that fixing that problem was MORE of a problem than what they did.

And, yeah, two interesting side characters. But take The Departed for example. It's a film of about the same length. It's about Cops and Robbers. But you've got Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Mr. French, Leo's idiot cop-magnet of a cousin... Every character adds a layer of depth to the film and is much more memorable. Having two side characters that were well acted and fleshed out just didn't offer the level of depth I was expecting to see.

Even Star Wars. Take someone as insignificant as Boba Fett. Or Jabba the Hutt, or Uncle Owen, or Grand Moff Tarkin... Every side character has his place in the story.

But Steve, let's be realistic, just because you don't see something as a problem, doesn't make it not a problem....

Bryan said...

I also wish to note that I said the movie was great and that, while I thought these things were problems, I don't think they were deal breakers.

I also said that I don't think they could have been fixed without making matters worse.

Steven said...


You lost me at "Grand Moff Tarkin".