Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

American Gangster (Ridley Scott, 2007)

Awards season has officially begun with Ridley Scott's American Gangster, based on the true story of Frank Lucas, 70s Harlem kingpin who shipped kilos and kilos of heroin into the US from Vietnam during the war. Denzel Washington plays Lucas with a perverse kind of charm, and nails the role right on the head. Lucas is a murderer, both by his own hands and the countless number of people he killed with his incredibly potent, cheap Blue Magic heroin. He's also an incredibly devoted family man who buys his mother and his extended clan of brothers and cousins an gigantic mansion, both because he wants to do something good for the mother who raised him and because he needs people around him who he can trust. One of Frank's core values is loyalty, that you never give up your family. Above all else, he believes that, and it helps bring upon his downfall.

Russell Crowe plays the opposite role of Richie Roberts, a cop so honest that his peers don't trust him (stemming from an incident where he found $1 million in the trunk of a car and returned every single dollar to his superiors). Because he can't work within the NYPD, his boss gives him a special assignment: to head up the new New York head of the DEA. Roberts becomes obsessed with finding the source of the heroin scurge in the city, and while he starts with the Italian mafia, it comes down to a single black man who has no boss.

The racial politics aren't really at the forefront of American Gangster, but it's an interesting paradox to have a strong black protagonist that defies the dominant culture, yet is an amoral character who is destroying the same Harlem he claims to be defending. Washington is electric in the role, and you end up almost hoping Lucas gets away. He doesn't, of course, thanks to Roberts. Crowe's portrayal is solid, but, as my brother and I discussed right after the movie, it's never as fun or interesting to play a good guy as a bad guy.

The movie clocks in at almost 160 minutes, yet there's no real lag. Thankfully, there's also very little personal details about the characters that seem tangential to the plot. This is a movie about these people, rather than their deeds (as opposed to, say, Zodiac, another good movie, but one that wasn't as solid throughout), so nothing feels unneeded. Lucas' brothers, played, among others, by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Common, are great supporting characters, if a little underused, and, in a funny twist, TI plays Common's baseball playing son (and the source of some of the most touching moments in the film). Oh, and if you're looking for Cuba Gooding Jr's comeback role, as many reviews say this movie is, you're out of luck - he's good, but probably has about ten lines in the entire movie (but apparently enough for Showtime to make a show about his character). A great start to the best movie season of the year.


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