Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

American Gangster (2-Disc Unrated Extended Edition)

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
7 out of 10
Extras Rating:
8 out of 10
Movie Details:
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Rating: R

Starring:
Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas
Russell Crowe as Det. Richie Roberts
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Huey Lucas
Josh Brolin as Detective Trupo
Lymari Nadal as Eva
Ted Levine as Det. Lou Toback
Roger Guenveur Smith as Nate
John Hawkes as Det. Freddie Spearman
RZA as Moses Jones
Yul Vazquez as Alphonse Abruzzo
Malcolm Goodwin as Jimmy Zee
Ruby Dee as Mama Lucas
Ruben Santiago-Hudson as Doc
Carla Gugino as Laurie Roberts
Skyler Fortgang as Michael Roberts

Special Features:
Unrated Extended Version
Original Theatrical Version: Includes Commentary with Director Ridley Scott and Writer Steven Zaillian
Deleted Scenes/Alternate Opening
Fallen Empire: Making American Gangster
Case Files: Behind The Scenes

Other Info:
Widescreen (1.85:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French Language
French and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 2 Hours 38 Minutes
Unrated Running Time: 2 Hours 57 Minutes

Synopsis:
The following is from the DVD cover:

"Academy AwardŽ winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe team with director Ridley Scott ('Gladiator') for an epic story as powerful as it is true. Armed with ruthless, street-wise tactics and a strict sense of honor, crime boss Frank Lucas (Washington) rules Harlem's chaotic drug underworld. When outcast cop Richie Roberts (Crowe) sets out to bring down Lucas's multi-million dollar empire, it plunges both men into a legendary confrontation."

"American Gangster" is rated R for violence, pervasive drug content and language, nudity and sexuality.

Mini-Review:
I'm a fan of Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe, and Denzel Washington, so I was interested in seeing "American Gangster." After watching it, I found the film to be entertaining, but it was like a marathon watching it. I viewed the Unrated Extended Version which was about 3 hours long.

Russell Crowe is excellent as Det. Richie Roberts, an honest cop with a troubled personal life. He's hard working to a fault and doggedly pursues the source of the potent new "Blue Magic" heroin hitting the streets. Denzel Washington is also good as Frank Lucas, the drug lord/philanthropist in New Jersey. But as much as I like Washington, I'm starting to see how he's very similar in every role that he plays, whether it's hero or villain. This becomes very apparent when you put him up against Chiwetel Ejiofor as Huey Lucas. Like Johnny Depp, Ejiofor is a real chameleon and he's completely different in every role he plays. Whether he's a Southern street thug in American Gangster or an intergalactic villain in "Serenity" or an African doctor in "Dirty Pretty Things," you can always count on him to deliver a unique performance. Throw in Josh Brolin, Ted Levine, Ruby Dee, and Carla Gugino and you have a fantastic supporting cast.

I suppose my real problem with the film comes in the portrayal of Frank Lucas. The guy ruined hundreds of lives by distributing drugs. He was a cold blooded murderer. He used the coffins of killed U.S. soldiers to transport drugs. He did numerous other criminal acts. Yet the film portrays him as an almost honorable fellow that should be admired for becoming a dominant "businessman" rather than reviled as a source of death and misery. This isn't helped when you see him in the bonus features practically bragging about his exploits. He doesn't seem to have any remorse or regret for his actions. I think Ridley Scott should have approached his story more as a cautionary tale than putting Lucas almost on a pedestal.

If you like Russell Crowe or Denzel Washington, then this is required viewing for you. Fans of Ridley Scott will also want to see it. But be sure to settle in for a long viewing when you decide to pop it in the DVD player.

The highlight of the bonus features is the documentary "Fallen Empire: Making American Gangster". It's a 'making of' documentary mixed in with interviews with the real Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts. They cover the real story behind the movie, the costumes, the production, the Ali vs. Frasier scene, the music, the editing, and the sound. Lucas is shown touring the set with his family and posing for pictures. Roberts is also shown making the rounds.

"Case Files: Behind The Scenes" is a 'fly on the wall' featurette showing planning meetings before the movie shooting began. You get to see the script meeting, planning for the scene showing the heroin test, and setting up the takedown. There's also a brief alternate opening scene and some footage from Lucas' wedding. Rounding things out is a commentary with Director Ridley Scott and Writer Steven Zaillian.

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