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Nobody used to notice Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), the quiet driver to one of the inner city's leading black crime bosses. But when his boss suddenly dies, Frank exploits the opening in the power structure to build his own empire and create his own version of the American Dream. Through ingenuity and a strict business ethic, he comes to rule the inner- city drug trade, flooding the streets with a purer product at a better price. Lucas outplays all of the leading crime syndicates and becomes not only one of the city's mainline corrupters, but part of its circle of legit civic superstars. Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is an outcast cop close enough to the streets to feel a shift of control in the drug underworld. Roberts believes someone is climbing the rungs above the known Mafia families and starts to suspect that a black power player has come from nowhere to dominate the scene. Both Lucas and Roberts share a rigorous ethical code that sets them apart from their own colleagues, making them lone figures on opposite sides of the law. The destinies of these two men will become intertwined as they approach a confrontation where only one of them can come out on top.
For more about American Gangster and the American Gangster Blu-ray release, see American Gangster Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on December 29, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Steven Zaillian
Starring: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Josh Brolin, Carla Gugino
» See full cast & crew
American Gangster Blu-ray Review
Is 'American Gangster' Blu Magic?
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, December 29, 2008
Either you're somebody, or you're nobody.
Perhaps no genre, save for the Western, boasts more powerful, epic, and memorable films than do Crime and Gangster films. From Jimmy Cagney to Al Pacino, White Heat to The Godfather, movies depicting the inner-workings of criminal life have filled theaters and thrilled audiences. 2007's American Gangster is one of the latest, and best, entries into this storied collection of films. The simply titled yet complexly engaging film captures one of the more compelling stories in the annals of American criminal lore, set during one of the most turbulent periods in modern history and showcasing the construction of an empire that directly benefited from the era in which it thrived. Telling the tale of the rise and fall of drug lord Frank Lucas, the film is impeccably acted, finely directed, nicely scored, and wholly compelling even at nearly three hours in length.
Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe, 3:10 to Yuma) is a cop who is too honest for his own good, to the point of alienating himself from his fellow officers. Nevertheless, with the area's drug problem on the rise, he is assigned the task of cleaning up the streets, heading up the new Essex County Narcotics Squad where he will work with hand-picked cops who share his integrity. The source of "Blue Magic," the new, pure, and inexpensive heroine on the street, is Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington, John Q), formerly the right-hand man of recently deceased crime boss "Bumpy" Johnson and now the head of a powerful drug empire. Lucas's empire thrives on delivering pure heroine, straight from the source in southeast Asia, as he earns his keep by taking advantage of both the War in Vietnam and the social climate in the United States. Despite Lucas's smart business acumen, Roberts slowly but surely closes in on him and his family as he foregoes pursuing middle men and takes aim at the head of the business.
Two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington and Oscar winner Russell Crowe headline the film, and despite a rather large ensemble cast, there is no doubt that American Gangster is their film, and not just because they receive top billing and enjoy the most screen time. American Gangster often plays almost like a two-man stage production as the pair go about their business, only late in the game converging for a memorable dénouement that plays out all too real, perhaps because the film resists the temptation to eschew good filmmaking and play to some sort of tired, grandiose ending that would hinder rather than help the overall tone. Instead, every frame plays true to the tone set in the frame prior, the entire experience a cohesive narrative that enjoys success because of its simplicity of storytelling yet complex attention to detail. Indeed, the film is a study in duality, offering nearly equal time to the two main characters as the film builds toward a stunning final hour that, combined with the fantastic action, directing, and music (courtesy of Marc Streitenfeld, A Good Year), creates a true edge-of-your-seat experience as Frank's and Richie's worlds collide. Clearly, both director Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down) and Washington and Crowe take pride in the film's construction, always playing it straight, never clichéd, and most importantly, glamorizing neither the criminal nor law enforcement angle of the story.
Both Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts are brilliantly portrayed with no-nonsense and workmanlike performances by Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, respectively. Washington, in particular, is at the top of his game. At this point, it's easy to take the actor for granted. As one of the finest of his or any generation, he never fails to become a character rather than simply acting in-character. Though his performance in Training Day currently marks the high point of his career, the Oscar winner's work in American Gangster ranks near the top of the list. His character offers something of a dual persona, at one moment a compassionate family man and at others a hardened criminal with the gall to murder a man on a crowded street. Washington never wrestles with one side of the character or the other, playing with an even keel and engrossing himself in the role, seemingly understanding beyond reproach the inner working of Frank Lucas. Likewise, Richie Roberts as portrayed by Russell Crowe is at once a no-nonsense, honest, good cop while at the same time struggling to maintain a semblance of life outside of work. His spiffy-clean image at work doesn't sit well with his fellow officers, but his well-intentioned soul cannot handle a home life, either. This performance is nearly as stellar, with Crowe playing the part with a simplicity that shows both a determined and troubled man, going about his business without hesitation externally, but struggling internally with both his home life and a moral compass that points him true but leads him on a wayward journey.
American Gangster Blu-ray, Video Quality
Universal presents American Gangster on Blu-ray with a mostly unremarkable but nevertheless true-to-the-source 1080p, 1.85:1-framed transfer. The image looks somewhat washed out and dull from the first frame to the last. There is a decidedly dark tone to the image, and detail is only moderately high at best as a result. Still, some shots truly shine; several exterior city street-level shots reveal incredible detail and depth, with every object sharp and clear, even considering the darker nature of the image. Black levels are only moderately deep, but seem to be affected by the intentionally pale, washed-out look the film employs. Even with this drab appearance, the movie maintains an excellent film-like appearance throughout, and the film, due to its epic nature, steady direction, and cinematic look and feel, begs for viewing on large screens to feel the full impact of the story. The 1080p Blu-ray resolution allows for just that, and while American Gangster by no means offers an eye-popping, colorful, or intricately detailed image, there is no doubt the material benefits greatly from the Blu-ray treatment.
American Gangster Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Presented with Universal's standard audio option, DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless, American Gangster is a sonic treat on Blu-ray. The track is aggressive and strong; the opening shot of the film features a handful of gunshots that ring out with quite a punch and plenty of vigor, accompanied by no lack of bass and a score that positively fills the room. The rear speakers carry their share of the score, in addition to sound effects and environmental ambiance. A subsequent scene features an aggressive and natural ambience, with the sounds of the city permeating every square inch of the soundstage. This excellent imaging and presence is maintained throughout; whether on the streets of the city of in the bowels of the jungle, the indisputable strength of the track lies in its natural presence and powerful, but never overly aggressive, true-to-life atmosphere. The strong bass, fine sound placement, and effortless flow make for an engaging mix that adds to the rough atmosphere created by the visuals and the dark tone of the story. A boxing match featuring the famous bout between Ali and Frazier in chapter 12 is one of the finer moments in the film, combining the sounds of a roaring crowd with the film's bass-heavy score, both of which flow naturally through every speaker. The film's major shootout in chapter 19 creates a harrowing atmosphere and makes for an aggressive, pleasing experience that pounds away through every speaker and adds an incredible level of tension and excitement to the sequence. The one negative of the track is that dialogue sometimes comes across as a bit muffled and lost under the effects, primarily noted during the earlier segments of the film. On the whole, however, American Gangster sounds fantastic on Blu-ray.
American Gangster Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
American Gangster arrives on Blu-ray with a solid array of supplements. The disc offers viewers the choice of viewing either the 157-minute theatrical cut or the 176-minute extended cut. One supplement, a commentary track with director Ridley Scott and writer Steven Zaillian, is available only by choosing the theatrical cut. The track is sufficient, fairly average in content, somewhat dull in delivery, but a worthwhile listen for hardcore fans. Another extra, the disc's U-Control functionality, is accessible only from the extended cut menu. Unlike other Universal titles, American Gangster's U-Control only offers one picture-in-picture option that presents basic material, including behind-the-scenes footage, cast and crew interviews, and the like. Also included on the disc is an alternate opening (480p, 1:02) and a deleted scene (480p, 2:43).
Fallen Empire: Making 'American Gangster' (480p, 1:18:21) is a five-part feature that examines the real-life story behind the film (including interview clips with the real Frank Lucas), the costume design, the film's production, a look at the boxing match, and the film's sound mixing and soundtrack. Case Files (480p, 24:56) is a three-part feature that looks at several aspects of the behind-the-scenes work that went into the production -- Script Meeting, Heroin Test Show & Tell, and Setting Up the Takedown. Next up is Hip-Hop Infusion Featuring Common and T.I. (480p, 5:13). This piece briefly examines the participation of hip-hop artists in the film, their experiences on-set, and their thoughts on the meaning of the film. The BET Special: The Making of 'American Gangster' (480p, 18:05) is another somewhat generic piece, narrated with plenty of vigor, that looks at the film with cast and crew interviews, clips from the film, and various behind-the-scenes materials. Dateline NBC: 'American Gangster' First Look (480p, 21:31) is a piece where Matt Lauer interviews Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Frank Lucas, and others, while discussing the film and its portrayal of American history. Concluding the bonus materials are two music videos -- Do You Feel Me (Remix) (480p, 3:07) by Anthony Hamilton featuring Ghostface Killah and Blue Magic (480p, 4:23) from Jay-Z's Album American Gangster -- and the film's theatrical trailer (480p, 1:57).
American Gangster Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
American Gangster is a modern American epic that offers a fantastic story, steady direction, two of the finest performances of 2007 from Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Well-paced despite a runtime that clocks in at just under three hours, the film is entirely captivating and never wears out its welcome. If anything, it leaves audiences begging for more, if for nothing else than to continue to marvel at the Oscar-caliber performances of its two leading men, and to that end, this Blu-ray disc does indeed offer viewers the option of viewing the film both in its theatrical and extended cuts. Technically, the disc never disappoints. The video quality may not be the best of high definition eye candy, but it captures the somewhat bleak tone of the film superbly. The lossless DTS track is marvelous, and the disc offers viewers plenty of bonus materials. This is one of the better packages currently available on Blu-ray, and easily comes highly recommended.
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