I know this post is coming too late to influence any Oscar voters out there (the nominations are set to be announced on Monday) but just in case, wanted to rave here about Ridley Scott’s latest cinematic epic, “American Gangster”.
We had tried to see this movie earlier in the season but were turned away as the screening room overflowed with people. Usually a full house means one of two things: that the movie is either really good or massively over-hyped. In this case, it was the former. Aside from truly stellar turns by Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, the movie takes what could have been a fairly standard real-life gangster biopic and flips it on its bloody head.
A beautifully produced, rousingly good movie with a climax that will literally leave you breathless, “Gangster” is hands down one of the best movies we’ve seen this year. Originally set to go before the cameras a couple years back with Washington and Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro (“Traffic”) in the role now played by Crowe, the movie was shut down at the last minute, over budgetary concerns, by a skittish Universal.
Since then, more than one director has tried to revive the movie, but it took the rocking A-list team of Scott and Oscar-winning screenwriter, Steven Zaillian, to finally get the balance right. And man, did they ever…
“Gangster” has the gritty, epic feel of such late-seventies classics as “Serpico”, “All The President’s Men” and “Three Days of the Condor” and while it didn’t exactly wow audiences at the box office this fall, it is totally up there with “There Will Be Blood”, “No Country for Old Men” and “Into The Wild” as one of the best films of the 2007.
I don’t wanna give away too much of the plot — anyone familiar with the true-life story of how Washington’s character, Frank Lucas, smuggled drugs into the country will know what an ingenious bad-ass this guy was — but essentially the movie details Lucas’ glorious rise from mob driver to international drug kingpin in Vietnam-era Harlem.
The phenomenal Russell Crowe — seriously, this part rivals his iconic work in “The Insider” — and his motley crew of undercover detectives are the good guys here, working against the totally corrupt “Serpico”-era NYPD to catch Lucas. I know it sounds like typical gangster stuff, but it isn’t. This kick-ass movie really shakes up the notion of what a crime-world movie can and should be.
And the supporting cast…wow…amazing! Josh Brolin, Ruby Dee, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr., Ted Levine, rappers RZA and Common, and a startling good Carla Gugino (as Crowe’s wife) make every scene better than the last. But our favorite bit of casting was the amazing John Hawkes as Crowe’s right hand man, Det. Freddie Spearman. This gangly genius, so spectacular in Miranda July’s cult fave “Me and You and Everyone We Know” is pitch perfect as the wild-eyed misfit at Crowe’s side.
So, while far lesser movies collect the gold this season — yeah, I’m talking to you “Atonement” — check out this flick while you still can in theatres. And keep your fingers crossed for the cast and crew on Monday morning…