Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Movie Review: American Gangster

This is one of the finest movies to get released this year. I suspect that this movie will be a top Academy Award contender next year. The key to the movie is its analytical approach. It presents a sound business model as the basis for drug trafficker Frank Lucas' success. He cuts the middle man (the italian mafia), approaches the asian supplier directly, buys a pure product and supplies it to his customers unadulterated. His 'blue light' drug unsurprisingly develops an amazing brand value and so fetches him a lot of money and customer loyalty. This allows him to pay his supplier and distribution channel very well. Everybody is happy. Here is a clean business model that is adhered to with discipline. Frank's discipline in keeping a low profile is admirable. He is a perfect example of Level 5 business leadership that the book 'Good To great' talks about. The scene where he burns the expensive coat that his wife buys him is a fantastic scene. Rarely has a scene shown a person ruthlessly disgregard another person's sentiment, to express, without any pretense, what his top priority and focus is. That is Lucas with his eye on the ball for you. More importantly, Lucas is a black man and no non-italian, especially no black man has ever done what Lucas has done.

For the Indian audience, this movie is sort of a parallel (but AG is an infinitely better movie) to Manirathnam's Guru. There are two characters - one who rises in business through illegal means and is very successful and another who is a honest person bent upon bringing the other guy down. Only that in this movie the opponent/challenger is more a busy bee sort of person. Less interested in showing how cold/ruthless he is, but more professional in the way he goes about his business. Richie Roberts played by Russell Crowe is a police officer who finds a million dollars in unmarked bills lying in an abandoned car and actually has the guts to turn it in. Oddly among all super-cop qualities, a dull and drab 'Honesty' is his calling card. That surprises people because honesty is so passe. No cop can believe it. They all stare at him as if he committed a murder. And this fact is presented to us so elegantly. Roberts shrugs off his image and does not answer back when people constantly ask him if that was true. Even here, note that Lucas is different when he confronts Roberts. Lucas asks him "but would you do it again?". Lucas sees an angle when nobody thinks an angle exists. He doesn't point his gun and pose, he shoots nonchalantly. He does it with minimum fuss and resumes a family conversation. Denzel Washington plays Lucas as if he were a model from GQ, with customary style and ruthlessness.

Ridley Scott teams up yet again with Russell Crowe and gives us a movie with a distinct look and feel to it. The movie has like dusty grey denim 60s style tone to it. The costumes, glasses, talk and walk all ooze class. Its unlike any style Ridley Scott has thrown at us before. The movie starts by alternating between Lucas and Roberts. The initial sequences will not make much sense - as seemingly random unconnected events are thrown at us. Roberts' narrative sequence seems similar to Gyllenhall's search for the Zodiac killer in the movie Zodiac. Frank Lucas's story is told in a 'Harlem meets Godfather' fashion. The story obviously covers a long timeline in their lives and so moves rapidly by touching just the highlights

However, there are these garden vegetable wife characters in both the Roberts' and Frank's lives, who are seriously very annoying. I saw it in Zodiac and many other movies and never thought such a character added value. A woman who is conflicted between an obsessive compulsive/law violating/ immoral husband and her own quest for a peaceful life with someone dedicated to her. Most successful men, upon whom other men look up to, aren't those romantic TV advertisement type wife pleasers who buy huggies Teddy Bear everyday and hang around their wife all day. This movie does not talk about such chocolate boys. So I don't understand the need for such women characters in this movie. Regardless of whether such women existed in the character's real life or not - it almost seems unnecessary to include such stereotypical women who ask "choose between your career and spending quality time with me" . This blemish apart this movie lives up to very high standards.

While this movie narrates a true story, I suspect, much like Guru, it adds its own cinematic license and exaggerates certain aspects of the story. However, the narration of the means through which drugs are transported to the US is no exaggeration. In a way, the sequence where Roberts begins to unwrap the body bags of dead US marines alone is testament to the ambition of this movie, the character of Roberts and the capitalistic outlook of George Lucas. A few days after watching this movie, I am still wondering about the way Lucas emphasizes the value of underplaying, keeping a low-profile, and discipline to his brother. They don't listen. Only he gets it.


MLC said...

yes! watchd it and it was impressv! DW fit the role like a glove! the thing tt i was thnkng aftr the movie was, what a smart guy this lucas must've bn to hv pulld this off in real life!! (fr few yrs atleast, until he got caught)

Sid said...

I thought his product was called "Blue Magic" and not "Blue Light".

Awesome movie, especially the scene where he talks of the brand value of his product and trademark infringement. Really awesome.

Gasquet Fan said...

The movie is cliched. He dealt with drugs. And for someone with such a clear advantage in supply and distribution of drugs compared to his competitors, it will only be dumb if he didn't talk about brand value.

But the movie is a feel good movie. I wish they made the Russel Crowe scenes a little interesting than reiterating the same point of his honesty again and again.

sundar said...

I think that showing the women characters is a part of depicting the reality. Thats what happens in life. you compromise on smth to gain on the other. Roberts compromises on having that quality time for himself but wins on being the good cop. I agree with you on the business mind of frank lucas.

Sowmya said...

I want a movie, where the woman is a drug dealer and the man is a good school teacher. Now that is something I will watch. Maybe, I will be the only person to watch. :-)

Hawkeye said...


ya Denzel is on a roll.


i remember it as blue light. let me check


/* someone with such a clear advantage in supply and distribution of drugs compared to his competitors */

advantage does not come on a platter. neither to gasquet on deuce nor to frank lucas.


its just too repetitive. that was my gripe


somebody will say 'kathai work aavathu sir'. jackie brown is sort of similar where girl is smuggler boy is eno thaano.

Subhash said...

I don' recall him doing anything special. It did come to him on a platter.

Hawkeye said...


somebody travelled to asia and gave the supplier a ton of money and did an exclusive contract. then somebody arranged to get the drugs delivered to US in a very ingenious way. that is not 'on a platter'

patrick said...

American Gangster reminded me yet again what a versatile actor Russel Crowe is… plus it's pretty clever how Ridley Scott makes us love the bad guy and dislike the good guy only to turn that around by the end of the movie.