62. American Gangster - The Part-Time Critic

Sunday, May 31, 2009

62. American Gangster

American Gangster (2007)
Directed by Ridley Scott

While not being the most original film on the list (it tells a very typical gangster/cop story), it’s the matter of fact procedural nature of the film that constantly draws me in to watch it over and over again. In the same way that Zodiac takes its time to flesh out the characters, the settings, and the motivations, American Gangster does that for a particular moment in 1970s New York City.

Speaking of the 1970s, the film is saturated in the 1970s, from the “transport you there” production design to the “doesn’t this feel like a 70s film” cinematography. I’m not sure how they did it, but I never once doubted the look and feel of the film. In fact, although it’s a dramatic story and its told dramatically, it really plays more like a documentary. In contrast to a gangster film like Road to Perdition that was a stylized tragedy, American Gangster is gritty and realistic. You don’t just watch the story and characters of American Gangster, you learn about them and their journeys.

This is not to say there is no drama in the story. I particularly like the way the film holds back any scenes between Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington. Its not until the final act of the film that we are able to finally see the A-listers interact, and they don’t disappoint in a interrogation sequence that lacks all the fireworks of the Joker-Batman interrogation in The Dark Knight, but makes up for it in nuance and intensity. I just love it.

To top it, Ridley Scott throws in a police-gangster shootout for the ages. The sequence builds perfectly and plays itself out in three distinct acts. It’s an action scene that any director would be proud to include on his resume. Me, I’m proud to include this film on my top 100.

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