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