American Gangster (2007; HD-DVD/DVD Combo Format) + The American Gangster (Sony DVD Documentary)
B/C+/C+ Sound: B/B-/C+ Extras: B-/D Film: B/B+ Documentary: B-
much shuffling around, Universal finally saw American Gangster go into production and the result is one of
2007’s best films. With Ridley Scott
directing, Denzel Washington would finally play real-life, upscale crime boss
Frank Lucas and his opponent in the police department would be matched by
Russell Crowe as the honest cop trying to bring him down when he finally
figures out that racism and ignorance is at least half the reason he is getting
away with drug trafficking and much more.
time, the mostly white male authorities on all local, state and federal levels
could not imagine (for their own lame reasons) that any black man could be a
kingpin of anything, but Lucas was and that is how he built his empire. Besides not being the most popular cop
around, Richie Roberts (Crowe) is the first and only person to realize what is
happening and the way he slowly discovers that Lucas is the brains among
several gangster outfits is a story in itself that unspools with the right kind
of tension and suspense throughout.
not the hands-on confrontation we saw between Mickey Rourke and John Lone in
Michael Cimino’s highly underrated and imitated Year Of The Dragon (1985, reviewed elsewhere on this site) with its
intensities and surprises, you once again have a story where the good cop is
fighting an uphill battle alone and cheers to Scott and the writer Steve
Zaillian for pulling off the tale by sticking to the real life case and not
falling back on any formula.
long at 157 minutes as released in theaters, the longer 176 minutes version is
far better, with more development of the story and detail of the tale as
intended. Both work well, but the longer
version is not just a few extra scenes from the cutting room floor slapped on,
but proof of how ambitious this film is and how most of that ambition was
realized. Now you can see for yourself.
also to Ruby Dee’s Oscar-nominated performance as Lucas’ mother ands great
turns by a solid cast of actors including Josh Brolin (having an amazing 2007)
as a corrupt cop, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Frank’s brother, Ted Levine, Carla
Gugino, Armand Assante, Joe Morton, Kevin Corrigan, John Polito, Clarence
Williams III and Cuba Gooding, Jr. giving the first real acting performance of
any substance in years. Hope we don’t
have to wait too long for him to try something like this again.
1.85 X 1 VC-1 digital High Definition image is a bit of a disappointment, even
in its shorter version being too long to be stuck on the HD side of a Combo
HD-DVD without loss of picture quality versus how great this looked on film in
35mm. Despite some remarkable work by
Director of Photography Harris Savides, A.S.C. (of The Yards, The Game and Zodiac) that is among his most
impressive, depth and detail may be above low def DVD, but does not deliver as
an HD format should. This is why the
longer version is only on the standard DVD side, but actually looks poorer and
especially in the Video Black and color range department. The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix on the HD side
is better than the DVD’s standard Dolby 5.1, but the lack of Dolby TrueHD
and/or DTS MA on the HD side is noticeable, especially since Scott’s films tend
to have some of the best sound mixes of any living director today. Oh, and the underrated Marc Streitenfeld
delivers one of the year’s most underrated scores.
both sides include the original theatrical trailer and besides the longer
version already noted, the HD side has HDi interactivity, an alternate opening,
deleted scenes and audio commentary by Scott and writer Steve Zaillian.
Burtt-produced documentary The American
Gangster, as narrated by Dennis Farina, is a pretty good crash course on
the oldest mobsters that came to public attention in the 1920s and 1930s. Though it has little to do with Scott’s film
and is obviously sold separately, it is a fine 48 minutes crash course in real
life crime and both the 1.33 X 1 image and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo are just
fine for playback.
critics outside of the film world targeted Scott’s film for political reasons,
saying that Frank Black was being to glorified by this film and portrayed with
too much dignity. How dare the makers
show him as classy when he was a “low life” or “scum bag” or “very bad man”
and/or the like? This came from a small
but vocal chorus of African American culture critics who seemed uncomfortable
about a great actor like Washington turning him into a role model he should
never be. However, they missed the
had already played a bad gangster-type on the level of Lucas, but without the
empire, family or power on that level.
If anything, most mob types when played by Black Males have fit how
these critics wanted to see Lucas played instead of what was delivered
here. The point is, this is the first
film in Hollywood history that portrays a powerful Black gangster as smart and
dignified and not just a crime figure that would easily fit into the kitsch of
Hip Hop’s view that goes back to 1970s cinema and works its way to Brian De
Palma’s 1983 Scarface remake.
not an immigrant gone bad or someone trapped by his circumstances just
exploiting others on a street level. If
anything, the real life Lucas would be more like he is here and not in what is
a modern stereotype of a Black gangster, or he would not have been as rich and
successful as he was. That is why, after
so many Gangster genre films (especially since 1990) and the hit phenomenon
that was The Sopranos, Scott’s American Gangster is a remarkable film
in that it moves on to the next major chapter in telling the crime stories the
genre has been telling since sound on film arrived.
in its long version, it is a grade-A winner whose value will only become more
obvious in the next few years and beyond.
- Nicholas Sheffo