The black God­fa­ther

A tale of an en­ter­pris­ing crimelord in the New York ghetto is a wor­thy ad­di­tion to the gang­ster film genre

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Books -

AMER­I­CAN GANG­STER

RI­D­LEY SCOTT’S fact-based crime epic about the rise and fall of a Har­lem druglord in the 1970s has three key as­sets go­ing for it — mag­nif­i­cent per­for­mances by Den­zel Wash­ing­ton and by Rus­sell Crowe, and Steven Zail­lian’s su­perb, vividly char­ac­terised screen­play. Com­ple­mented by Scott’s de­tailed di­rec­tion, they com­bine to make Amer­i­can Gang­ster grip­ping from start to fin­ish and a mem­o­rable ad­di­tion to a well-worn genre.

Wash­ing­ton is body­guard Frank Lu­cas who, on the sud­den death of his un­der­world boss and men­tor, seizes the op­por­tu­nity to take over. He heads to Bangkok where he buys mas­sive quan­ti­ties of pure heroin which are smug­gled back into the US in the coffins of Amer­i­can sol­diers who have been killed in Viet­nam. Back in Har­lem, Lu­cas sells his undi­luted heroin on the streets at half the price of the di­luted dope be­ing ped­dled by his com­peti­tors. Drugs apart, his is an al­most ar­che­typal all-Amer­i­can suc­cess story.

Op­pos­ing Lu­cas is Crowe’s atyp­i­cally hon­est New Jer­sey cop Richie Roberts, who has made him­self an out­cast with less scrupu­lous col­leagues. He is asked to go un­der­cover and bring Lu­cas to book.

The pro­tag­o­nists’ sto­ries are com­pellingly told in par­al­lel, un­til their fi­nal con­fronta­tion in a bril­liantly writ­ten, played and di­rected scene when Lu­cas (“I ain’t been nor­mal since I was six years old”) and Roberts con­front each other, a per­fectly wrought scene that alone is worth the price of ad­mis­sion.

Wash­ing­ton must surely be in line for a Academy Award for his riv­et­ing char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion. His sur­face cool, ur­ban­ity and charm make his ut­ter ruth­less­ness all the more ter­ri­fy­ing.

BE­OWULF

NEVER UN­DER­ES­TI­MATE the power of spe­cial ef­fects. Thanks to a process called “per­for­mance cap­ture”, where ac­tors’ move­ments are cap­tured dig­i­tally, then com­put­erised, live ac­tion is trans­formed into high-tech an­i­ma­tion. Di­rec­tor Robert Ze­meckis em­ploys the tech­nique to great ef­fect, turn­ing portly 50-year-old Ray Win­stone into the mighty Nordic war­rior Be­owulf, who slays Gren­del, the mon­ster go­rily lay­ing waste to the court of me­dieval Scan­di­na­vian king Hroth­gar. But the death of Gren­del lands Be­owulf in the clutches of the crea­ture’s dan­ger­ously se­duc­tive mother, melt­ingly voiced by An­gelina Jolie.

Sce­nar­ists Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary re­work the orig­i­nal leg­end into a lively mix of gi­ant sea demons and dragons, with the (pre­sum­ably de­lib­er­ately) hi­lar­i­ously dire di­a­logue de­liv­ered with just the right amount of cyn­i­cism by most of the play­ers — no­tably An­thony Hop­kins, as Hroth­gar. The re­sult is a splen­didly silly fan­tasy drenched in (an­i­mated) blood­shed which is al­most con­stantly en­ter­tain­ing.

EARTH

AWE-IN­SPIR­ING CIN­E­MATOG­RA­PHY, im­pec­ca­ble edit­ing and a su­perb com­men­tary de­liv­ered by Pa­trick Ste­wart make this doc­u­men­tary about the ef­fects of global warm­ing on the an­i­mal pop­u­la­tion one of most watch­able and im­pres­sive wildlife films ever seen. Se­quences such as the flashy mat- ing dance of birds of par­adise will stay long in the me­mory.

BRICK LANE

SARAH GAVRON does a per­fectly de­cent job di­rect­ing this se­ri­ous-minded ver­sion of Mon­ica Ali’s novel about a young Bangladeshi wo­man who has to adapt to life in Lon­don’s East End. Tan­nishtha Chat­ter­jee is first-class as the girl, but there is lit­tle here to en­gage the imag­i­na­tion and the screen adap­ta­tion at­tempts to cram too much into the movie’s run­ning time.

Den­zel Wash­ing­ton (fourth from left) plays a drug dealer whose gang rules Har­lem in Amer­i­can Gang­ster

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