“The loudest man in the room is also the weakest man in the room,” according to Denzel Washington’s Frank Lucas. However, in this is hardly the case in American Gangster, as it is the swaggering, charismatic drug lord who steals the show in Ridley Scott’s latest.
Detailing the rise of Washington’s self-made Harlem drug baron and his run-ins with morally-conflicted cop, Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe, looking oddly like Forrest Whittaker), American Gangster is a fantastically entertaining film, but hardly Scott’s greatest.
Washington, for starters, is outstanding- dominating every scene with energy and substance, his Lucas is more than just your average Tony Montana look-alike. Brooding with rage, emotion and pure unbridled charm, Washington’s performance will undoubtedly be remembered come Oscar season. It’s a shame, then, that this leaves little room for Crowe, whose segments sag in comparison. Sure, his back-story- riddled with divorce, bribery, and corruption- is as just complex as Lucas’, but it’s just not quite as interesting as the tale of the bodyguard who quickly becomes the most powerful man in New York. What’s more, the two hardly share any screen time at all. When they finally do meet their chemistry is amazing, however it’s all too brief.
Meanwhile, there’s a great supporting cast on offer (particularly Josh Brolin’s token Mad Cop), but they’re usually sidelined to either bodybag-filler or comic relief. That leaves Scott’s direction, which shines throughout; particularly when it comes to Lucas waltzing through one of his fancy clubs or a fantastic (topless) shoot-out near the end which is more Hard Boiled than Heat, but remains brilliant.
All in all, this is a superb slice of cinema, bolstered by a brutally brilliant performance from Washington and Scott’s energetic direction. It’s just a shame that Crowe, excellent as he is, is landed with a somewhat dull role and that the stars only briefly get to properly slug it out on-screen. I’m afraid that those sold on the premise of Denny V. Russey may be disappointed.