Cast : Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe
Direction : Ridley Scott
Rating : ***
British director Ridley Scott, whose fat resume includes unforgettable work like Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise and Gladiator, brings his hyperbolic visual style to this cops-versus-crooks thriller.
Denzel Washington’s volatile performance anchors the real-life story of the drug lord who dominated the U S narcotics market during the early 1970s. Born into poverty, the self-made African-American ‘entrepreneur’ expanded his local Harlem-based operation.
Dealing directly with a kingpin in Thailand, he smuggled heroin inside the coffins of deceased soldiers shipped back from Vietnam. Clearly, the allure of power and greed is all-pervasive.
Meanwhile in a parallel development, an upright detective (Crowe) is assigned to hunt down the ringleader. In the tradition of similar rise-and-fall sagas, the bad guy eventually gets his comeuppance.
Throughout, the director deftly interweaves the separate narrative strands. Indeed, the two adversaries share only one scene together, a la the legendary face-off between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat.
Scott relies on slick cinematography, swift editing and a pulsating rhythm and blues music score to convey the throb and tension of the turbulent era. Needless to emphasise, there are several spectacular set pieces like the climactic raid on the drug den.
On the downside, the dalliance between the mobster and his Puerto Rican girlfriend (Lymari Nadal) lacks spark. Also, the frequent cutaways to addicts shooting up are more distracting than disturbing.
Despite a few irksome moments, it’s still quite rewarding to chase the American Gangster.