PCR past banners
Now in our eighth calendar year!
PCR #397 (Vol. 8, No. 44) This edition is for the week of October 29--November 4, 2007.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"American Gangster"

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

theater seats

"American Gangster"  by Mike Smith
Halloween & Horrors Overload Pt. II: Beach Theatre Terrorthon and Cult-O-Ween  by Andy Lalino
Halloween Potpourri part 2 -- a Casanegra Halloween.  by Terence Nuzum
I Went To Cult-O-Ween And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt  by Lisa Ciurro
Retro-Ween  by ED Tucker
Grow or Die: Art and the Review  by Corey Castellano
The Nominees Are .... Passing On .... Movie Notes .... .... .... .... .... .... Whatever Happened To--? Chapter 32: Charles Durning  by Mike Smith
Archives of Nolan's Pop Culture Review
Archives 2007
Archives 2006
Archives 2005
Archives 2004
Archives 2003
Archives 2002
Archives 2001
Archives 2000
Email PCR

Starring: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Josh Brolin and Armand Assante
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Rated: R
Running Time: 2 hours 37 mins

I’ve always been puzzled by how the Academy Awards work. In 2000, both Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe found themselves nominated as Best Actor for playing real life characters in “The Hurricane” and “The Insider” respectively. They both lost to Kevin Spacey for “American Beauty.” The next year saw Crowe take home the Oscar for his work in “Gladiator.” Not a stretch, really, but probably payback for not winning the year before. The following year saw both men nominated again, with Crowe the odds on favorite to win award number two for “A Beautiful Mind.” Instead, the winner was Washington for “Training Day.” Again, great performance but most likely payback for “The Hurricane.” The countdown begins now to see which of these men will be nominated for their work in “American Gangster.”

New York City. 1967. Frank Lucas (Washington) is a driver/bodyguard for the local Harlem gangster (an always great Clarence Williams III). Frank’s boss laments the new appliance store in town, one which charges cheaper prices because they have cut out the middleman and gone straight to the manufacturer. The boss doesn’t care for this type of business practice. Frank, however, will find a use for it once he takes over the business.

Jump ahead a few years and meet policeman Richie Roberts (Crowe), who is working the streets by day and studying to be a lawyer at night. Things are tough for an honest cop as a majority of the narcotics squad is stealing from the property room and going into business for themselves. One night, while on a stakeout, Richie and his partner come across a car they think has been abandoned by a drug dealer. In the trunk they discover almost one million dollars in cash. Richie’s partner urges him to keep the money, noting that honest cops are looked on unfavorably by their brethren. “Money doesn’t kill cops,” he tells Richie. “Cops kill cops.” Without blinking an eye, Richie turns the money in, ironically making him untrustworthy to most of his fellow officers while turning his good deed into a punch line. In Harlem, Frank has found a way to smuggle heroin directly from Vietnam to Harlem, thereby “cutting out the middleman.” As his business grows, Frank brings his brothers and mother up from North Carolina to share in his prosperity while Richie works to shut him down.

Based on a true story, “American Gangster” offers two of our greatest film actors together for the first time since the sci fi mishap “Virtuosity.” Back then, Crowe was just starting his Hollywood career while Washington was finishing his ascension to movie star. Here both actors perform like lions, each circling the other with respect but not afraid to charge. Not since Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro finally shared a scene in “Heat” has a crime drama had such built in suspense. And credit that suspense to director Scott, who with such films as “Alien” and “Blade Runner” to his credit, knows something about suspense. Yet at the same time, Scott lets his actors stretch their muscles and dominate the foreground. While Richie continues to search for the supplier, Frank stresses to his brothers that the importance of being seen and not heard. “The loudest one in the room is the one that draws attention,” he tells them, cautioning them that their loud clothing and jewelry only makes them stick out to the authorities. Ignoring his own advice, Frank goes to a title fight in a chinchilla hat and scarf a brother gave him as a gift. It’s not long before Richie has Frank in his sights. His bosses don’t believe him. They can’t accept the fact that a black man has out maneuvered the mafia at their own game.

The story moves back and forth from the jungles of Vietnam to the middle of Harlem, with each actor commanding each scene he’s featured in. When the two get together, the fireworks fly and you realize you are seeing two of the best, EVER, at the top of their game. If there is one complaint, it is that the film runs about 30 mins too long, with a subplot about Richie and his child custody case the only thing that feels forced. The supporting cast is excellent, with Brolin (as a bad cop) and Cuba Gooding, Jr. (as a rival of Franks’, very “loud”) standing out. And there is always a reason to celebrate when Armand Assante is in a movie.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give “American Gangster”:

This week's movie review of "American Gangster" is ©2007 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2007, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.