Rama’s Screen: Review of American Gangster

Welcome to our weekly column by YSN member and movie aficionado Rama Tampubolon. He runs the movie review and discussion blog, Rama’s Screen, and was featured in “United 300,” which won for “Best Spoof” at the 2007 MTV Movie Awards. He’ll discuss the latest hot topics and movie reviews every Thursday on Waste Time Wisely.

American Gangster is not Scarface! Let me remind you that this is a whole other ball game. It’s much different than what the mafia movie master Martin Scorsese would do. This one is more about the two main characters than it is about the inner workings of everyday mobster’s life, like Goodfellas.

In the 1970s, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) rules the innercity drug trade and builds his own American dream. He outsmarts his competition and gets back on the corrupt cops who try to take advantage of his business. Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is an honest cop who suspects a new criminal is taking over the city.

Don’t expect that since Denzel plays a bad guy, it’s going to be like Training Day. In this movie, his character, in my opinion, is not as menacing and doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Denzel always brings his A-game, don’t get me wrong. But his portrayal as Frank Lucas, to me, comes across as unoriginal and nothing special even when he tries to show us that he is an out-of-control maniac who, despite the riches and money he gave his family, he has forgotten himself and where he came from.

Russell Crowe (with an okay New York accent) does well as Detective Richie Roberts, who tries to be honest in the midst of police corruption when he himself, without realizing it, is being dishonest in his relationship and some of his work methods.

Having known ahead of time that Oscar winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian is one of the forces behind this project – that alone got me curious about this movie. But now, having seen the whole thing, I think American Gangster is entertaining, but definitely not award worthy. Director Ridley Scott might get nominated but I highly doubt that will happen since The Departed is still fresh in people’s memories from last year. As you’re watching American Gangster, you can’t help but remember similar movies in the past. It’s as if you’ve seen some of the scenes a long time ago.

What I do like about this movie is that with the 2:40 minute span, it offers a lot to see, which keeps us awake so time flies by quickly. The acting is great, the 1970’s looks and the feel from that era seem realistic, like we just traveled through time.

But it’s not something I’d watch twice.

The only thing fascinating is the fact that a black man built a drug empire and accomplished something that other mafias hadn’t back then. 

The grade I give American Gangster is 3 out of 5

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