Sunday, November 4, 2007

American Gangster, Wristcutters: A Love Story

American Gangster
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor

I had really high expectations for this one, and it kind of let me down. Don't get me wrong: it was good, but it just didn't have that extra element to take it to the next level. I'm sure Denzel will get the requisite Oscar nomination for his performance (deservedly so, in my opinion), but Russell Crowe's character kind of sucked. I was more disappointed with this aspect of the movie than anything else. The legendary Ridley Scott chose to shoot the movie in a parallel fashion so Frank Lucas (Denzel) and Ritchie Roberts (Crowe) didn't meet up until the very end of the movie, and I think this was a mistake. The best parts were when the two were acting together in the same room, and I think the whole thing would have greatly benefited from them playing up the fact that two of the best actors on screen today are starring in the same film. Denzel's family scenes were pretty good, but Crowe's were not nearly as interesting. Yes, they did this for a reason, but I just don't really think it was necessary to harp on the paradox that Crowe is a womanizing cop while Denzel is running a fair (but illegal) operation. We get it. They're different.

American Gangster was good, but not great. It was really long (2 hours and 40 minutes), but that part didn't bother me as much as it might have bothered other people. I think when you take on a character-driven movie like this that is so epic in scale, you have to show the rise of the character so his eventual fall actually means something to the audience. You can't just jump in halfway through his career as a drug lord with an already-established power base. American Gangster did a great job of avoiding this and giving us just enough of Frank Lucas' life on both ends of the movie. There were some great appearances by Cuba Gooding, Jr. (What has HE been up to lately? A Boat Trip sequel?) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (One of my new favorite actors. He was fantastic in Serenity), so that was a nice surprise that I didn't expect going in. I think my best analysis I could give of this movie is that it has a nasty case of Wild Wild West syndrome. The trailer (or music video, in WWW's case) was better than the actual movie.

I almost guarantee this is going to be a "TNT New Classic" in a year, so wait until then and catch it for free on TV, or rent it when it comes out. It was good, but there's really no need to see this in the theater. Fun fact: Ridley Scott said in an interview that thirty-five locations was reasonable for a film, but he broke a record with this movie with a staggering one hundred and eighty locations, most of them in Harlem.

Wristcutters: A Love Story
Director: Goran Dukic
Starring: Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon

Don't judge it by its title. Aside from Shoot 'Em Up (which was a polar opposite to Wristcutters), this was my favorite movie of the past four or five months. I'm sure most of you haven't heard of it, so here's the trailer to get you a little more acclimated.

If you liked the trailer, you'll like the movie. I loved it because it's an interesting concept that I've never seen hashed and rehashed on film before. Anything original these days will at least grab my attention. I used to purposely avoid indie films, but in recent years I've broadened my horizons and given them a chance. It just so happens that indie films give me just as much (if not more) enjoyment as huge blockbusters. Almost all of the independent films that I've seen have been really good: Amelie, Brick, Memento, Fargo, Little Miss Sunshine, The Big Lebowski, Garden State, Shaun of the Dead - the list goes on. I know there are some terrible indie films out there, but I've been lucky with the ones that I've seen. It's just refreshing to see a high-concept movie executed on such a great level without relying on huge budgets or crazy special effects to connect with their audience.

I was a little distracted by Patrick Fugit while I was watching the movie because I knew I'd seen him in something else but couldn't for the life of me remember what it was. I later discovered he was the main character in Almost Famous. He carried the movie well, and I wouldn't mind seeing him in more of these type of films. And I must admit, I'm not really a Shannyn Sossamon fan since she has a penchant for playing really morose, drugged out characters. But she was surprisingly charming, affable, and gorgeous in this movie. I thought she did a great job. There is also something mesmerizing about a movie like this where there is such a clearly defined mission (find the girl, find the people in charge), but great things happen along the way.

It's a shame that most of you will never see this. Phil McCarty (former bassist of The Chris McCarty Band) reminded me that the concept is slightly based on a play of Jean-Paul Sarte, an existential French writer from the mid-1900's. No Exit follows three people trapped in a room together (supposedly hell), but it is only hell because they make it hell for each other. Wristcutters is similar, but a lot more upbeat than No Exit - after all, Wristcutters is a comedy. Anyway, I can't tout it highly enough. I promise you won't suddenly turn emo if you see it. Support independent film. Until next time...


tee breezy said...

I expect American Gangster to be really good. But you need to watch yourself with those indie films, it's a slippery slope. Once you start saying Fugit is a great actor and films like Little Miss Sunshine are funny and quaint, you'll find yourself barefoot, smoking the reefer and not showering for days. Hippism has struck millions of college kids, and there are more victims being rolled in everyday.

TAB cares...

patrick said...

American Gangster reminds me yet again what a versatile actor Russell Crowe is… plus Ridley Scott deftly leads us into loving the bad guy and disliking the good guy only to flip that around by the end of the movie... very clever.