Wednesday, 26 January 2011

American Gangster (2007) - Ridley Scott

As a kid I loved Ridley Scott, he was up there with Gilliam and Argento as total style guru for me. A Ridley Scott film would mean one thing above all else, eye porn. I couldn't care less what the film was about, if he was behind the camera chomping on a cigar then I'd watch it. That's why I've sat through such piddle as Black Rain, and enjoyed it. As I've grown older though I've become less enamoured with the look of films, and far more obsessed with the film as a whole. Style over substance, that's something that people have always thrown at Ridley Scott, and quite often it's true. He does have a little more to him than just his camera work though. He hops from genre to genre like no one else, there is no predicting what he'll do next (although you can always predict how it will look). Another huge plus with Scott is the amount of great female roles there are in his filmography. Far more than any of his contemporaries that I can think of. Since hitting gold with Gladiator, it's felt as if Scott has been coasting along pumping out big historical epics and the odd low budget (for that read $70,000,000) flick. Some have hit the mark, some haven't. Matchstick Men, Black Hawk Down and American Gangster being the best three films Scott has stamped his mark on since Gladiator.

This is one of those based on a true story efforts, I wasn't familiar with the story before seeing the film, but I can imagine it's one of those 'the names are the same it's just the story that's been changed' type scenarios. Denzel Washington is at his nasty bastard best as Frank Lucas, who during the 70's made a fortune by flooding the States with heroin. Russell Crowe is Richie Roberts the cop that put an end to it all and put him behind bars. From those two lines you can guess how the film plays out, it's all attention to period detail, pimp threads and afro wigs for Denzel's crew, Serpico chic for Russell's. The cars are shiny and everything about the film feels unauthentic. It just keeps informing you that you are watching a film, the music pumps away on the soundtrack, people strut into scenes and then disappear onto the cutting room floor, action is handled in a typical action way - not quite as extreme as Michael Bay or Scott's brother Tony, but still all really unrealistically. But then again you don't watch a Ridley Scott film for the dialogue do you? Still compared to other Hollywood gangster flicks of the past few years this is probably one of the better ones, not up there with Donnie Brasco but maybe a little better than Public Enemies.

Style over substance. Remember? Style over substance. What it reminded me of most was that thing that Hollywood always does, you know the thing where some screenwriter/producer sees a TV series and decides that 'Hey wouldn't it be great to make a film like that?'. Of course then they go about ripping the guts out of the show, condensing everything so that it will fit into a two hour time frame, finally their vision disappears when someone with a stronger one (normally the director, or lead actor) is bought on board to get the whole thing off the ground. So with that in mind I'll just say HBO - The Wire, and leave it at that. I think you know what I mean.

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