Ridley Scott’s work will forever echo in the annals of cinema history as some of the most profound and gut-wrenching work. Aside from being technically impressive in almost every genre, Ridley Scott’s work is also considered emotionally gut-wrenching. From Sci-Fi masterpieces such as Alien and Blade Runner to the ancient epic Gladiator and many more, Scott has turned himself into an iconic director. One of the films that he’s less known for is American Gangster, featuring one of the most brilliant ensembles in the 2000s era, American Gangster is as brilliant as it is flawed.
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The Movie Review
American Gangster takes us on a thrilling journey into the gritty underbelly of late 1960s New York City, where the rise and fall of two men define the era’s crime landscape.
Directed by Ridley Scott, the film is loosely based on the true story of Frank Lucas, a charismatic and ruthless Harlem drug lord, and Richie Roberts, an honest cop determined to bring him down. The narrative explores themes of power, corruption, and morality, as these two complex characters navigate their respective worlds.
The sharp and engrossing writing in American Gangster expertly weaves together the parallel storylines of Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts. While Frank rises to power as a drug lord, Richie tirelessly pursues justice as a determined cop.
The film seamlessly transitions between their contrasting lives, highlighting their distinct motivations, struggles, and ideologies. The editing and writing flawlessly juxtapose the disparities between these two characters’ lives, showcasing the dichotomy between Frank’s criminal empire and Richie’s relentless pursuit of justice.
Steven Zaillian’s screenplay delves into the complexities of these characters, presenting them as multifaceted individuals rather than one-dimensional archetypes.
Frank Lucas is not simply a ruthless criminal but a man driven by a desire to provide for his family and create a legacy. Richie Roberts, on the other hand, is not just a noble cop but a flawed individual dealing with personal and professional challenges.
Ridley Scott does a great job at making Steve Zaillian’s script feel like it came to life. However, certain subplots receive less attention and development, leaving you craving for more depth. For instance, the relationship between Frank and his wife feels underdeveloped, and at times it does seem like Richie is just a goody two shoes with no motivation.
Thankfully, the actors bring in the big guns for this film and they give it their all.
I mean, that was already expected, with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in the lead roles, you can’t go wrong. The two are exceptional at their roles, Denzel brings a calm and threatening aura to his role, meanwhile, Crowe brings the determination of a naïve, justice-seeking cop.
It is a bit mind-blowing how they’ve somehow managed to get some actual A-Listers in the side roles as well. You have actors such as Josh Brolin, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Idris Elba, Cuba Gooding Jr., Carla Gugino, Norman Reedus, RZA, and Lymari Nadal.
It’s an ensemble film before those even became an industry standard, and perhaps a pioneer in that particular style of casting.
This film has two distinct styles in the cinematography, and it feels as though you’re watching two different films as the point of views change.
The use of wide shots, rich colors and the luxurious settings are there to highlight the extravagant parties and penthouses on Frank’s side. Meanwhile, when focusing on Richie Roberts and the law enforcement side of the story, the cinematography shifts to a grittier and more realistic style.
The camera angles are often lower, capturing the characters in their environments and emphasizing their grounded nature. At times, this works, but most of the time it just feels very inconsistent, even though the film looks great from Richie’s perspective.
The original soundtrack for American Gangster was composed by Marc Streitenfeld, and honestly, it complements the film’s narrative very beautifully. It is a key aspect in enhancing the emotional impact of key scenes, especially during the more heated moments in Richie’s parts.
There are also a bunch of soulful tracks that make Frank’s moments feel even larger than life. Meanwhile, the pulsating beats add an extra layer of intensity to the visceral nature of Richie’s life. The soundtrack is very effective at capturing the mood and energy of the late 60s era.
Despite its flaws, the film offers a riveting exploration of power dynamics, morality, and the blurred lines between law enforcement and criminal enterprises.
Denzel Washington’s powerhouse performance, supported by Russell Crowe’s nuanced portrayal, anchors the film and makes it a must-watch. While some pacing issues and missed opportunities hold it back from greatness, American Gangster remains a gritty and compelling entry in the crime genre.
Ridley Scott’s ensemble film is a terrific switch up from his usual antics and a film that solidifies him as a director of immense talent.
- The writing weaves parallel storylines perfectly, highlighting the contrasting lives of the two main characters
- The screenplay delves into the complexities of the characters, presenting them as multifaceted individuals
- The performances by Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe are exceptional, plus the ensemble is fully stacked with pure talent
- The soundtrack by Marc Streitenfeld enhances the emotional impact of key scenes, capturing the mood and energy of the era
- Certain subplots receive less attention and development
- Richie Roberts may come across as a goody two shoes with insufficient motivation
- While the film's visuals look great during Richie's perspective, it needed cohesion in the overall cinematographic approach