Watching: American Gangster

Here's a quick blurb:

American Gangster is a 2007 crime film written by Steve Zaillian and directed by Ridley Scott. The film stars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Washington portrays Frank Lucas, a real-life heroin kingpin from Manhattan who smuggled the drug into the country in the coffins of American soldiers returning from the Vietnam War. Crowe portrays Richie Roberts, a detective who brings down Lucas's drug empire.

Here's the trailer:

I really got the sense as I was watching this film that Ridley Scott saw this as an opportunity to make his own The Godfather (with a touch of Goodfellas). Clearly there are a number of differences - it's much more of a cop vs bad guy story than a sprawling crime family thing - but nonetheless, there really was a Godfather vibe to this thing - stylistically at least.

The film uses a lot of the same sombre and dark looks in Godfather, celebrates the whole family thing and even hints during a Thanksgiving sequence at the famous Godfather christening/whacking montage. Music from that culture is used widely (and really effectively, awesome soundtrack of soul, funk and blaxploitation hits including my personal fave "Across 110th St". (This is also a staple of the Scorsese approach)

What the film missed though was depth and this is what puts it into the lower tier of perfectly competent but by-no-means great crime films. The characters are all a little thin - possessing one or two heavily emphasised personal traits (Frank Lucas is smart and capable, Richie Roberts is smart and honest) that you really don't get past. (The fact that Richie Roberts had turned in nearly a million dollars he and a partner had found in a car boot was mentioned at least a dozen times in the story)

It was interesting enough to watch, stylish and cool but ultimately, I didn't really care what happened to any of the characters and Ridley Scott never seemed willing to dwell long enough on any one scene to create any anxiety that something could go wrong.

Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe's performances were fine for the characters they were given, I just wish the characters had been more interesting. All in all, a stylish film and an interesting enough story but nothing amazing