American Businessman

10m.jpgWhat we have here is a contender.

Of course, anyone can tell you without seeing it that American Gangster is a front-runner for multiple Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Ridley Scott doesn’t direct Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe without some serious fanfare. People have been talking and writing about this movie for months. And, as it turns out, the hype had serious merit.

This movie is really two stories: that of gangster Frank Lucas, and that of cop Richie Roberts. It takes 45 minutes for Richie’s character to even become aware of the existence of Frank Lucas, and considerably longer for Lucas to return the favor. The strength of the screenplay, by Steven Zaillian, and the deftness of Ridley Scott’s direction allow these two stories to feel equally important and to flow into and out of each other so easily that nothing ever feels awkward or choppy. Watching Lucas defiantly build his empire without the support of the gangsters already ruling Harlem and Roberts stubbornly play by the rules even as the majority of his fellow cops are on the take, we see how these compelling and volatile men are alike. In circumstances that oppose, both are determined to defy the expectations of others.

After following these characters so closely, the moment when they finally collide is exhilarating. The two have shared the same space in scenes previous, but have never interacted. As they finally matched eyes, I grinned in the darkness of the theater. It is a specific kind of triumph when, after more than two very satisfying hours, a movie can give the viewer a moment that makes them think “yeah, this is when it’s really going to get fun,” and then deliver on that promise. This is not a movie that sags in the third act.

Russell Crowe gives the best performance I have ever seen from him. He conquers this character in a way I don’t think he managed in his Oscar-winning role in Gladiator: without going over the top. I have never liked him so much as I did here. Denzel Washington’s role is flashier, but he is pitch-perfect as well. Josh Brolin is remarkable as a corrupt officer who probably has more screen time with the two leads than they do with each other. Dozens more also do fine work. I didn’t see a weak link.

My only quibble is one that I have with a number of recent movies: there are hardly any moments without background music. Please, filmmakers of America, have some faith in your story, your actors, and your images to communicate emotion to the viewer! We’ve seen a lot of movies, we know when you’re trying to influence us with the swelling score. But this is a minor thing in a movie of this quality. I can forgive a flaw if it doesn’t interfere with the overall product’s capacity to thrill me.

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1 Response to “American Businessman”


  1. 1 Carly November 9, 2007 at 11:38 am

    i haaaaaaaaaaaaate russel crowe. and i don’t like ridley scott so much either. but i LOVE denzel. so i will see this movie. eventually. when the hype dies down. i also hate oscar buzz on a film so big and star-and-studio-powered that it practically publicizes itself. and that awards season, like presidential elections season, has tripled in length over the last decade. but did i say already how much i love denzel?


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