Sunday, November 4, 2007

American Gangster (2007, Ridley Scott)

Every movie has its own optimal duration, and in the best cases the movie that makes it to the screen is exactly as long as it needs to be. Both Satantango and The Heart of the World are sort of unimaginable at any length besides the ones they so fortunately ended up with. American Gangster isn't one of those cases. At a shade over 2 1/2 hours, it's long enough to announce that it means to be taken seriously, but not long enough to really delve into the details it needed to show us. I can imagine this story playing out at 100 minutes as a tense, gritty crime story, or at 3 1/2 to 4 hours, or even at miniseries length, getting down to the nitty gritty of the case. But the rule here is to judge the movie on the screen, and in that respect it's pretty good- a thoroughly professional job, but hardly revelatory. Washington gets the showier of the two principal roles, and while he's fine in the role, it's really not much of a stretch for him, even when he's lighting a man on fire and then shooting him. He's all steely intensity here, occasionally allowing a wide smile to play across his face for any number of reasons, but concentrating much of his performance into his darting, ever-calculating eyes. However, unlike most reviews so far, I was actually more interested in Russell Crowe's storyline, especially in the way his dogged band of do-gooder drug dicks solved the case not necessarily by being smarter or craftier than the crooks, but by catching lucky breaks and flying by the seats of their pants (look at the way one of his team, played by RZA, improvises during a bust). Also, Josh Brolin continues to surprise- he was one of the few bright spots of Planet Terror, and by all accounts he's great in No Country for Old Men. So nice to see that there are still some man's man actors around, eh? Rating: 6 out of 10.

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