Sunday, November 25, 2007
American gangster- yet another gangster movie?
I saw a new movie yesterday- American gangster starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.
The movie depicts the crime scene in Harlem, New York during the late 1960s- when American gangsters slowly began to replace the classic Italian mafias. The movie follows the life of one such heroin kingpin, Frank Lucas (played by Denzel Washington). In the midst of Prohibition and heavy drug abuse in the US, Lucas goes to southeast Asia to buy pure heroin directly from the growers and finds an ingenious way to transport it back to New York. Because of his unique means of supply and transport, he is able to sell the drug in a very pure form for a much cheaper price than the competitors. He calls it 'Blue magic' and it becomes the rage among all the junkies in the city. Lucas quickly becomes a wealthy and powerful drug lord in Harlem.
Russell Crowe plays an honest detective battling against the corrupt New York police department to identify the gang behind 'Blue magic'. He forms a team of small-time but honest detectives and they cleverly investigate the Harlem drug scene.
The story might seem like the usual cop vs. criminal story, but the screenplay is very powerful. It brings out how one man, an African American man slowly takes over the New York drug scene using his clever capitalist ways, leaving the Italian mafia and the police department stunned. The movie succeeds in depicting the gritty underbelly of both the city's crime scene and the police department. Most of the movie is shot in tones of browns and yellows, giving it a musty, raw and almost dirty feel- leaving the viewer with a real sense of what it was like in Harlem at that time.
Having said all that, I also have to confess that the movie did put two of my friends to sleep. If I managed to stay awake, it was partly due to my self control but mostly due to the lack of decent heating in that god forsaken theater. Can't sleep when you are constantly cold! The movie, in an attempt to realistically depict the life of an American gangster, stretches longer than required. Out of the 2 and a half hours, the first half is slow moving; some scenes are unnecessary and almost hinder the storyline. The second half though is gripping and makes up for the first half.
When voting for which movie to watch, I voted against American Gangster- it was my two friends, yes the ones who fell asleep, who picked the movie. I entered the theater thinking... 'Oh gosh, here goes another violent and bloody gang movie where everybody dies in the end.' It was a gang movie and yes, there was some blood and gore, but ironically behind the premise of all that violence, there was a very positive message. A gangster who rises to power in a world where no other man of his kind had ever gained such power; A police officer who solves the case despite all the other corrupt fellow officers standing in his way... If that doesn't say 'you can do whatever you set your mind to' I don't know what does!