For Charged by the System - ( Collapse )
Ridley Scott’s current film is the gritty American Gangster, which he shoots in a style that is reminiscent of the urban thrillers of the 1970s; in fact, the original Mark Jacobson article that inspired the film was titled “The Return of Superfly.” The era the film is set in permeates the film and becomes a character as much as any of the on-screen actors. The real Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts served as consultants on this film, and it certainly achieves quite a lot of verisimilitude.
This is a film very much of its genre while also being of its time; Lucas (Denzel Washington) is shown to be successful but his success is not romanticized. The cost to his community and the lives ruined or ended by his actions are focused upon as much as any other element of his business, and the fact that his race made him invisible to the authorities is fully addressed in the film. Roberts (Russell Crowe) is indeed a straight cop, but he is also a complete mess of a man. The stars immerse themselves in their roles (Crowe apparently studied tape recordings of Roberts’ voice extensively in order to perfect his speech patterns) and are completely believable. They are also supported by top class talent operating at the top of their game, including Ruby Dee, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Ted Levine, Armand Assante and Jon Polito.
American Gangster isn’t as flashy as Scott’s other films, but such techniques wouldn’t work with this material. The film, much like David Fincher’s Zodiac earlier this year, instead is more of a police procedural, concentrating on the case itself (albeit from both sides) and so captures the viewer with the strength of its narrative rather than intimacy with the characters. Harris Savides’ photography and Marc Streitenfield’s score are both appropriately low-key. American Gangster works because it sticks to its guns and tells the story it sets out to tell.