Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. I’ve been hearing some great things about this one, and I’m a little shocked that it’s already able to be shown to test audiences in any form. Having said that, I guess it makes sense. Ridley Scott’s always been an aggressive cutter, and I guess he wants to test early and make sure he’s got time to tweak in the months ahead. So how’s it looking so far? Here’s our first of two spies with his take on things:
Harry, I went to a test screening of American Gangster last night in Pasadena. It was late in getting started because they had to wait for Brian Grazer and his crazy ass hair to arrive. But all in all in ended up being worth the wait. I assume that that in the finished product there will be a opening credit sequence, because the first minute they had attached was too laughably bad to be real. Universal logo, black screen with a drum beat, fade in to an empty restaurant where a man uses drumsticks on a table. Denzel Washington walks into focus in full zoot suit and fires a gun into the camera ala James Bond then the title pops up. I pray this is just temp filler, which is entirely possible considering the movie is still eight months from release. Washington's introduction is tied to the natural death of his mentor Bumpy Johnson, played by Clarence Williams III. Crowe's introduction is a bit more exciting. His New Jersey detective character and partner raid a motel room with guns and a sledge hammer. We then see him with hot ex-wife Carla Gugino. We also find out that he is in law school. After Johnson's death Harlem's drug business is up for grabs. A kingpin played by Idris Elba (Stringer Bell from The Wire) seems to be the heir apparent. This leads Washington to Thailand where he hooks up with his cousin, a soldier. Since Vietnam is raging at this point, they are able to hide massive amounts of heroin aboard transport planes and fly them back to the states. He then sells the heroin pure on the streets for less than the competitions watered down product. So he quickly becomes the only game in town. After shooting Elba's character point blank in the head in broad daylight and recruiting his five loyal brothers from North Carolina he is on his way to becoming the biggest game in town, bigger than the mob and his colleagues ( Gooding) who must eventually must come to him for product. Two events put Crowe and Washington and a collision course. First is the death of Crowe's drug addicted partner by Washington's signature H and the otherwise low key Washington being photographed at a Ali Frazier fight in a fur coat sitting in the best seats in the Garden. Sorry, it's time to leave work so I'm going to have to cut it short. It is then enjoyable cat and mouse for the rest of the way out with them only meeting at the end. Ridley Scott's directing had the stamp of a veteran pro. His shot selection was so smooth you were never once taken out of the movie. The supporting acting was quite good, in particular Josh Brolin channeling Nick Nolte in Q&A, the afore-mentioned Cuba Gooding, Ted Levine, and John Hawkes. If they change that ridiculous opening and shed a bit of fat I will have no problem highly recommending this movie. If you must I go by Harry Angel.
Stringer Bell from THE WIRE is in this? I love that guy! Wow, this just made me even more excited to see it. I mean, sure it’s a VIRTUOSITY reunion, and what right-thinking person wouldn’t want more of the magic that film dished up with two hands? But enough nostalgia. What’s our second spy think?
I'm not your typical write-in guy but felt compelled to sit down and type as I had a chance to see a movie tonight that I haven't seen much word about in the typical places. This past weekend I was out in my town of Pasadena and was given a chance to see "American Gangster", last night at a screening. I'm sure most everyone here knows this is the next movie by Ridley Scott and stars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. IMDB has it coming out on November 2, so it seems this was an early test. The greeter gave us the usual "you're the first audience" spiel, but the movie looked pretty much done to me. I filled out my card but wasn't picked to be part of the discussion group after. I feel like saying "welcome back, Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe" and, well, Denzel never really went away, did he? But, Jesus, what a comeback for Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe. It's almost inconceivable that the last time these two guys got together was for "A Good Year," because the people that made that movie don't seem even related to the people that made this one. In fact, this has got to be Ridley Scott's best thing since -- what? "Gladiator"? Before? It's so different than his huge epics like that and "Kingdom of Heaven," though. It's like he got in a time machine and went back to '70s school. This film feels and looks like "Serpico" or "French Connection", and it's just, well, cool as hell. Effortlessly cool as hell. I'll try to whittle down the plot, because there's a lot of it. Basically: Denzel plays Frank Lucas, who was the kind of second-in-command to the biggest drug dealer crime boss in Harlem in the 60s. When that guy is shot, Lucas decides to become The Man himself and goes to Thailand to get directly to the source of heroin. He cuts out all the middlemen and starts importing tons of pure-grade heroin into NY which he sells at a cheaper price than anyone else. Money starts pouring in. He sets up his mom in a new mansion and takes care of his family, making his brothers his only partners. The way he gets the drugs into the States is a big -- and pretty shocking -- plot point. Now Lucas is the epitome of cool but he is a bad ass. He shoots a competitor in cold blood in the middle of the day on a crowded street. His temper simmers right below the surface and you never know when he's going to explode. And watching Denzel play this guy is just flat-out awesome. It's not a maniacal performance like "Training Day," but the guy oozes menace. You would not want to fuck around with him. Crowe plays a New York cop who's a complete outsider because he turned in close to a million dollars he and his partner discovered on a bust. Apparently that goes against the unspoken rules of the dirty NYPD in the early 70s, because he is a complete pariah. But his captain puts him in charge of figuring out who the new drug kingpin is since apparently whoever it is operates outside of the Mafia and is ruining the streets of Harlem with pure, cheap heroin. Crowe starts tracking Lucas and finally gets enough evidence together to arrest him. Let's talk about Russell Crowe for a second. Forget about what anyone might think of him as a person. As an actor? I think we forget just how good this guy is, and here, it's back to "LA Confidential" type stuff. He's a real person -- not a boxer or a sailor or a gladiator or a genius or anyone else bigger-than-life. This cop is a mess. Full of conflicts, in the middle of a messy divorce, out of shape, but totally principled. Crowe steps up and it seems to just loosen him up. He's not so goddamned rigid. It's a lot of fun to see him play someone this normal, this contemporary and this real. I think I've missed Russell Crowe while he's been going for his Oscar every time out. Welcome back. Stay around for awhile. The plot keeps these guys apart for nearly all the movie in a cat-and-mouse chase as Crowe gets closer and closer to arresting Lucas. But when that finally happens, you've got Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe sitting across each other at a table trying to outsmart each other. It is fucking great. It's like a newer version of Pacino and De Niro in "Heat." These guys are the best there is, and watching them play off each other, sniffing around to see if they're going to be enemies or reluctant allies, is the reason to go to movies. That scene could have just gone on and on and on. The audience was going nuts. Amazing that these two guys were in that piece of crap "Virtuosity" together. This is what they should be doing. This is ONLY what they should be doing. Great supporting cast, most of who I don't know by name, but Ruby Dee plays Denzel's character's mom, and she is the only one who can stand up to him. When she finally confronts him about where all of his money is coming from, it's almost as good as when Russell gets to his character. Everyone else is so scared of Lucas, that it's startling when this old lady stands her ground. Carla Gugino and her boobs show up quickly as Richie's estranged wife. Chiwietel plays one of Denzel's brothers, as does Common. Josh Brolin is a dirty cop and I think that the flashier gangster who's competing with Lucas is Cuba Gooding, but I couldn't swear. He doesn't really have a scene but it seemed like him. The movie just moves, too. You feel the street life of New York in the 70s, and the clothes, the style, the music -- all of it just makes the movie a blast to watch. It's a little like Ridley is channeling a bit of his brother, because it has the grit and feel of "True Romance" more than it does Ridley's usual polish. I mean, the opening scene is a really stylized bit of Lucas in silhouette against blue walking to camera and firing a gun, then he turns and leaves, wordless. It never relents. Again: how did this guy make "A Good Year" just a year ago? There are some flaws. There is a bit at the end that takes the two main characters several years forward that doesn't really work, and there's a little plot confusion at times just in terms of who's who. But all minor stuff that they've got plenty of time to fix. All in all, I was completely surprised and completely entertained. This thing feels like this year's "Departed" -- a great cast working at the top of their game, a director coming completely back to form, a tough but entertaining criminal plot, energy, style, music and cool to spare. The audience was way into it. They had a great time and there was huge applause at the end. Keep your eye on this one as the fall comes around. It's gonna be a monster. VINCE