American Gangster

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OK, so the last team-up between director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, last year’s film adaptation of A Year in Provence that was A Good Year, may have been critically panned and largely ignored by cinemagoers. Yes, Scott’s outing before that, 2005’s historical epic Kingdom of Heaven, was likewise slated and shunned. And yes, his film before that, the Nic Cage-starring Matchstick Men, made little real impact.

But let’s not forget that this is the paring that brought us Gladiator – a well-crafted if occasionally clunky piece of epic cinema. Let’s not forget that Crowe has turned in some truly superb performances in the likes of Romper Stomper, LA Confidential, A Beautiful Mind and The Insider. Let’s not forget that Ridley Scott is the director responsible for some of the all-time classics of the last 30 years, from Alien through Thelma and Louise, Blade Runner and Black Hawk Down.

The thing is, of course, that no matter how talented people may be, they’re never perfect. For every Alien that Scott’s made, there’s a GI Jane or a Legend; for every Master and Commander for Crowe, there’s been a Rough Magic or a Heaven’s Burning. But for both men, the hit rate has been impressive for most of their careers.

In other words, after three in a row that were more or less below par, Scott’s due for a return to form. Crowe’s already got back into his stride with the recent Western 3:10 to Yuma – now it’s the director’s turn. And, in a fairly typical move for a director who seems to hate working in the same genre more than once, he’s opted for a film that’s rather different to anything he’s churned out before – a period gangster thriller. To help him out, he’s even stolen Denzel Washington, the favourite leading man of his director brother Tony Scott, the man behind the likes of the Washington-starring Man on Fire, Déjà Vu and Crimson Tide.

So, an Oscar-winning director and two Oscar-winning actors – three, if counting Cuba Gooding Jr in support – teaming up for a 1970s-set crime flick? Sounds strangely reminiscent of The Godfather, Part II, doesn’t it? Well, sort of – this is similarly ambitious in scope, albeit set amongst the real-life gangs of Harlem-based heroin dealers who used the coffins of soldiers killed in Vietnam to smuggle back their supply. But the inspiration could seem more akin to The French Connection – another 1970s New York-set thriller based on a real-life drug-smuggling ring – especially as Crowe plays a detective trying to break the gang, just as Gene Hackman did in that earlier masterpiece.

If anyone else was making this movie, the question would be, “Why bother with a 1970s-set crime piece – we’ve already got a whole bunch of classics that were made at the time?” But even though Scott may have been off-target recently, he’s always got interesting ideas for storylines – and seeing how Crowe and Scott play off each other 12 years on from 1995’s rather poor Virtuosity, now that both are regarded as among Hollywood’s best, should prove fun no matter what your expectations. And, let’s not forget, the law of averages states that this should be a good one from Scott.