Monday, February 18, 2008
Aside from an embarassing bit of Training Day on TV (which made me believe his Oscar has the scent of a Pacino on it), I haven't seen a Denzel Washington movie since 1998's Fallen and The Siege, so it was comforting to have his gifts reaffirmed - one could watch him watch the world all day. One reason I haven't seen anything he's done over the last decade is that he keeps working with Tony Scott and folks who wish they were Ridley, Tony's classier and equally vacuous brother. It's hard to believe Denzel's never worked with the real deal until now.
The climax of American Gangster threatens to crosscut between a violent shoot-out and the anti-hero at church, and its disappointing they didn't go for such a blatant Godfather lift. If a film's going to lack any coherent message or intent (other than a desire to siphon some of Scarface's merch money by making an epic about a black druglord grander than New Jack City), it might as well have the energy of camp. The film may excite class-seekers like Jay-Z, but I wonder if the film's Oscary patina - as well as its "then he became a snitch" ending and lack of mouthfoam - will keep it from gaining the street cred it needs to achieve mob-movie immortality.
While Russell Crowe doesn't rise above his material like Denzel, he is an expert at charming his way through it (this is his third Ridley Scott film). Almost all the actors are welcome sights (though I'm worried that today young black men can't get into movies without a multi-album rap career), but no one gets a garish, memorable scene to chew into. Compare Ruby Dee's nomination-reel speech to Beatrice Straight's and you'll see they don't make 'em like they used to.
One of two movies coming out on DVD this week to star Josh Brolin as a dislikable cop.