I just came from an early evening screening of American Gangster here on the upper west side of manhattan. unfortunately it was in a crummy, uncomfortable theatre, but for the price i paid i shouldn't complain. I notice before the movie started that this screening was much more diverse than most i have been to. there was a wonderful mixture of men and women, young and old, black, white, hispanic and asian. Basically a good cross-section of NYC and indeed, America was represented tonight. usually these screenings are for a targeted demographic, but the flyer for tonight's screening was for audiences between 17 and 59. I even saw a neighbor of mine who is well into her 70s and somehow she managed to get in. I am not a huge fan of Ridley Scott, or Russell Crowe or Denzel Washington. I think they can be very good, but more often than not, i am either not overly impressed with what they do, or just annoyed with them. I think Ridley has made some amazing movies that are visually stunning and have great stories and he has also made movies that just fall flat. I give him credit with at least trying new and different things, and for that i appreciate him. I think Russell peaked with LA Confidential and from then on he's pretty much annoyed me. I don't find him all the special or "intense" or interesting of an actor. i think he turns on the machismo way too much and overdoes it most of the time. I liked him in LA Condfidential because he was something new and that brand of intensity fit the story perfectly. As for Denzel, when he is on his game he is truly great. there are a handful of movies that he has made where he was perfect (glory, malcolm x) but usually i find that he has a denzel schtick that i don't find compelling (i haven't seen training day but i hear this is one of his better performances). With that said, i think American Gangster is flat out the best gangster movie since goodfellas. ok, let the "plant" calling begin because i flat out loved this movie. the three principles here have performed at the top of their game. ridley made a beautiful nyc/nj movie. he did a great job of showing the grit and grime of the late '60s / early 70s while never doing any "postcard" shots. at the same time he kept the story moving showing the rise of Frank Lucas and his eventual, inevitable fall. Russell was very quiet and subdued throughout the movie. his character is an "honest" cop whose childhood roots are most probably of the unsavory kind. his high school friends are criminals. He is a cop who is finishing law school so that he can further better himself and distance himself from where he came from. he reminds me a lot of a firefighter friend of mine (who survived 9/11) who after that terrible day retired from the department and went to law school so that he could better his mind and provide for his family in a safe way. ridley and russell were very smart in making this character a flawed one who, while an honest cop, is a dishonest husband and negligent father. Denzel did not do his schtick, except for one scene where he seemingly tries to ape pacino from godfather 3. other than his "they tried to kill my wife" chest thump, i thought denzel was picture perfect. there are hints of his Malcolm X pimp walk which i enjoyed seeing. frank lucas is a quiet, unassuming man who learns a lot from his mentor and eventually takes that knowledge and builds himself an empire, making enemies of other drug lords and dirty cops. from the opening scene we know this is not a typical denzel character and that he is not to be fucked with. that scene grabs the audience by the balls and tells us to hold on for an exciting ride. special mention must be given to steven zallian who, yet again, wrote a smart screenplay. the main characters are well developed; there are gangster cliches that are alluded to never fully developed. that is a good thing. an example is a big showdown occurring while frank is at church. obviously this is reminiscing of godfather 1, but the filmmakers were smart enough not to try to redo or outdo the original. instead they did their own thing which worked well in its own rights. zallian was also smart enough to leave some things that are to be read between the lines. i liked that not everything is spoonfed and you have to piece some things together yourself. also i loved the fact that this is not a cat and mouse movie like heat. the bad guy and the cop don't meet until the bad guy is arrested by the cop. we watch russell put together his case while at the same time we watch denzel grow his operation until it becomes too big for the anonymity he so desires. special mention #2 must be given to josh brolin. this guy has been in 3 of the best movies this year. in planet terror he is a slimy asshole. in no country for old men he is a guy obsessed with money. and in american gangster he is a slimy crooked cop obsessed with money. this may not seem like much of a range but the subtelties in each performance are such that each character has different degrees of sliminess and greed to them. of the three my favorite performance of his is NCFOM which i think is the #1 movie of the year (followed closely by Into the Wild). i would definitely put American Gangster in my top 5 of the year. i'm sure many, if not most of you will thoroughly enjoy this movie. call me...the plant. no wait...i'm Darth Noodle. wet and limp and proud of it.