American Gangster: Two-Disc Unrated Extended Edition Ridley Scott

American Gangster: Two-Disc Unrated Extended Edition Ridley Scott
It’s hard to find a more pedigreed film production than American Gangster, produced and directed by Oscar-winning teams (Scott, Brian Grazer), with big-name acting heavyweight superstars (Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe) and written by another acclaimed talent, Steven Zaillian. It’s a handsomely mounted production (as a long "making of” points out) with everything going for it, including an unlikely hero/underdog at its core. In case you’re wondering, the hero is crime boss Frank Lucas (Washington), the first African-American to make serious high-level inroads into organised crime, particularly drug running. He built his own independent business, hired family and ran his Harlem neighbourhood for more than a decade. When he was finally caught, he squealed on everyone within reach, particularly the corrupt cops that aided his ascension. According to American Gangster, all this makes him a hero, an idol worth admiring; who better to embody the rogue black leader than Washington, who once gave a searing performance as Malcolm X, a true rogue black leader? Russell Crowe gets the short end of the narrative stick as the cop who figures it out; the inevitable movie-ending showdown has nothing on two masters having coffee like Pacino and DeNiro in Heat, although Scott does his best to achieve that level of gravitas. It’s never quite convincing because American Gangster is too in thrall with Frank Lucas, and Washington fails to give the brutal gangster any sense of, well, brutality. Sure, he does horrible things, but what drives that, and who he is underneath the fancy threads and stoic demeanour, remains unexplored. And with that American Gangster remains an ambitious failure, in either its original or bloated "extended, unrated” cuts, both included here. The rest of the extras are primarily concerned with veracity, from heroin purity tests to the guest list at the 1971 Muhammed Ali/Joe Frazier fight that serves as a narrative turning point. I don’t doubt for a second that the outfit worn by Frank Lucas on a dangerous, unprecedented trip into the heroin production heart of southeast Asia was accurate; all I wanted was a better understanding of what drove him there in the first place. Plus: deleted scenes, director and screenwriter commentary. (Universal)