Release date: Nov. 2 Distributor: Universal
Gangster films suddenly don’t seem so long a shot for Oscar gold following the triumph of “The Departed,” the “Oscar picture that wasn’t an Oscar picture.” Last year, Scorsese’s crime epic was much admired by critics and touted for commercial success straight out of the gate, but the Oscar doubting continued through virtually the entire season. Until it won.
History looks to be at least partially repeating itself with “American Gangster,” as the expectations for commercial success are hale, and early critical buzz is hearty. But the biggest question, ironically enough, is whether or not the Academy membership will endorse another gangster picture on the heels of “Departed.”
There’s clearly Oscar-vet talent all over the picture, including winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in the leads, triple directing nominee Ridley Scott and double editing winner Pietro Scalia. What they’ve crafted, along with Harris Savides’ edgy camera work and Arthur Max’s stunning re-creation of Harlem circa early 1970s, is both epic and intimate.
It’s the amazing true story of a narcotics kingpin (Washington) capable of destroying his own community and family, brought down by a determined cop (Crowe) incapable of joining the majority of his narcotics investigation colleagues in a sewer of corruption. It’s the classic Hollywood tale of good guys vs. bad guys, but with a nod to racial politics, the Vietnam war’s poisonous side effects and a bitch-slap to American capitalism all thrown in for good measure.