Movie Reviews

DVD Review: “American Gangster (2-Disc Unrated Extended Edition)”

(Universal.  2007.  2 discs.  2 hours, 38 minutes rated; 2 hours, 57 minutes unrated.  Rated R for violence, pervasive drug content and language, nudity and sexuality.  Color.  Widescreen.  Directed by Ridley Scott.)  Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Brolin, Ted Levine, Armand Assante, John Ortiz, John Hawkes, RZA, Clarence Williams III (uncredited).  Music by Marc Streitenfeld.

The bar is set high with two powerhouse actors and one powerhouse director on board for this old-school gangster tale.  At close to three hours, the tale-telling better be riveting, and this is a solid effort that falls short of greatness.  The story’s based on the real-life exploits of Frank Lucas (Washington), a heroin dealer who ruled Harlem in the 1970s; Crowe’s shabby Jersey cop Richie Roberts, divorced (of course; aren’t all cops in movies?) and dealing with custody battles and one-night stands as well as solving crimes. The direction and acting are fine (Crowe in particular seems to inhabit his role), but the script’s a little unfocused.  I would have given it a couple more passes, taken out some of the self-indulgent backstory, and added more action; then make sure the whole thing comes in at around 2 hours, 15 minutes.  Yeah.  (Note to Ridley: go back and look at Sidney Lumet’s Serpico for what you should have done.)  Unrated version’s chief difference is a coda where Roberts comes to pick up Lucas after his 15-year prison stint and walks him around the old Harlem neighborhood to note the changes; it was wise to cut this.  Extras on this handsomely-packaged 2-disc set include deleted scenes and featurettes.  There are also single-disc and 3-disc versions (the last includes a souvenir booklet).

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