American Gangster Blu-Ray Review

Blu-Ray & DVD Version Covered In Review

Cover Art and Menu: 7/10
The cover is appropriate and eye-catching. It fits the bill for sure, but I’m not a fan of the obvious choices when it comes to making posters or box art. That would explain why I don’t do that for a living, The menu is standard Universal Blu-Ray & DVD fare, REALLY standard, we are talking old school here people. Some images and navigation, nothing fancy.

Features: 8/10

  • Unrated & Theatrical Version Of The Movie – The unrated version has a longer ending and I assume a few seconds here and there of uncut violent tid bits. I recommend the unrated one just because I do think the end is more meaningful and feels like it tells the whole story (as whole as a movie can).
  • Commentary By Ridley Scott & Writer Steven Zaillian – Ridley is a classic, right? He’s done some of the most memorable movies in my lifetime. He’s just kind of dry when you listen to him for a while. I know I know!! He’s a legend to some people, fine, but he’s got a hint of snobbery mixed with his film making genius, and you can’t argue with that.
  • Deleted Scenes & Alternative Opening – The deleted scenes aren’t scenes at all. One of them the wedding ceremony of Lucas and Miss Puerto Rico and the other is a very brief opening to the movie that didn’t get used. When I say brief..I mean brief.
  • Fallen Empire The Making Of American Gangster (Feature Length) – This is a substantial bit of extra for anyone who loves the movie and appreciates any of the heavy hitters involved like Ridley Scott, Denzel Washington, or Russell Crowe. This goes through how the movie got made, why the different parties agreed to do it, but the best part is that they have included a lot of material about the real people behind the story, including Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts
  • Case Files Featurette’s – These are pretty good. They follow the standard DVD thing where you get a bit about the costumes, a bit about the music, etc. One of them is about how Ridley Scott investigated the reality vs. movie reality of showing how to test heroine on screen, and we listen in on a conference call with the screen writer while Scott gives his “suggestions.”
  • The BET Special The Making Of American Gangster – BET put a disctinctly trendy spin on the movie with this promotional show. BET always seem like they are trying to hard to be cool whenever I see one of these on a disc, perhaps its because I am not cool and do not understand the lingo 🙂
  • Dateline NBC American Gangster First look – Matt Lauer sits down with Washington and Crowe for a informal chat, for a TV interview this one is quite interesting.
  • Music Videos -Boring Rap Videos
  • U-Control (Blu-Ray Exclusive) – Universals U-Control lets you bring up some picture in picture action on select scenes in the movie, these short clips show how some of the scenes were filmed and for once is actually worth a watch.

The Movie: 9/10
I was curious why the movie was called American Gangster. I watched it a few days ago. I talked about it in our podcast. I have thought about it a lot and I only just figured it out. This gangster isn’t a gangsta. Frank Lucas was his own man. He took traditional mob tactics and applied them to a corporate mentality. He wasn’t beholden to any other mob family, no boss, no one could intimidate him. One of the best crafted parts of this film is that Lucas is brought to life through Denzel Washington’s performance and Ridley’s direction, not to mention the excellent script. He is based on a real person, yes, but we will never know how he really was. The thing is, it’s all orchestrated in a way that makes him seem like an unstoppable force. Driven by his own desire to be in charge of his own life, he is ruthless and charming, a deadly combination.

So, how did all this come together to give me a sense of what the title is all about? The idea that America is the kind of place where you can be whatever you want, no matter who you are, as long as you work hard and are determined. Frank Lucas exemplified that notion. Yes, he became a brutal killer who ruled his drug empire with an iron fist and calculating mind. But what he wasn’t doing was killing, drug dealing, performing dog and pony mob tricks for anyone else. He was on his own. You could say he was doing it for his family or to make a better life for himself, but the touch of genius in this film is that you can see through that. It’s clear he’s only in it for his own satisfaction. The word psychopath comes to mind once or twice as I think back over some of his behavior. He does try to ‘right’ by his brothers and mother giving them money, jobs, a big house to live in, but not really for them. He wanted it all for himself and to do that he needed them. He wanted to rule over them, and he did.

Russell Crowe plays Richie Roberts, the cop from Newark who was given the job of bringing the drug syndicate in the city to it’s knees. When his investigation crosses paths with Lucas, it’s a matter of time for the truly self motivated police officer to win or lose over Lucas’s brazen style. That’s the heart of the story for me. The film is built on these two characters, both driven, both distinct and hardened and who have a tendency to follow their own rules first.

The fact that the events took place from 68-73 is quite handy because I really enjoy watching movies set in that general time frame. I was only born in 67, but that was my childhood era so I identify with the clothes, the cars, even the style of movies and TV from then that this film portrays beautifully. These people couldn’t have existed at any other time in history. The Vietnam War played a role in the drug trafficking. This was before DNA evidence and the world wide web so finding information about people was more hands on and not just a click of a mouse. It was all about being there, up close and personal, taking risks, and that wasn’t cushy and cozy cops and robbers from a desktop PC doing research browsing criminal records or keeping your crime empire tight with cell phones and hidden cameras. They had to be clever, cunning, and a little bit crazy. That’s what both Crowe and Washington bring out in their performances, and I will say quite brilliantly to be honest.

Strangely they both are examples of what a person can do when they truly set them minds to something. They didn’t cure any diseases or solve any world problems, but they did expose rampant police corruption, which is something valuable. Even if they are an unlikely pair, a cop and a criminal, they accomplished something bigger than the both of them.

The film is long and I love it that way. It’s paced perfectly. The music is spot on. The wardrobe is groovy, and the sets are, well, stunningly 70’s. It’s got a certain grit to it that films from that time period tended to have, so it’s like comfort food for a movie lover such as myself. Everyone in the cast is genuine and brings something so solid to their parts. It makes the film feel more credible, more authentic.

I am American. A very likely result of that is that I do have woven in the fibers of my whole life that we have a unique opportunity here. Even if it’s all academic and a simple case of more than 200 years of PR and marketing, there is this built-in belief that you can come from nothing and become something against all odds and adversity. Whether you become a maniacal criminal who shots a man in the head in broad daylight on a busy city street confident that the fear people have of you is enough to insure their silence and your cockiness doesn’t even allow you to care, or you become a respectable law enforcement officer who returns a million dollars in unmarked bills just because it’s the right thing to do, you get to choose for yourself. Frank Lucas was the original American Gangster….horrible, murdering, vile American Gangster, yes, but an original nonetheless.

Video & Audio By Ascully: 8/10
American Gangster comes to Blu-Ray and unfortunately the picture is not much of a upgrade over the DVD version, I think this is possibly because the movie was filmed in a muted flat looking way and the extra resolution and color space doesn’t make that much of a difference here. Still its not a bad looking image apart from a few scenes which are heavily edge enhanced. Universal have been great so far with some impressive looking encodes (cough cough Doomsday) but this one falls a little short of the mark.

Audio on the other hand is way more impressive in its new DTS-HD Master Audio track, this blows away the previous track that was included on the DVD version and is worth the price of the disc alone for those looking to upgrade.

Value: 8/10
You can grab this standard DVD for a little over twenty bucks. That’s not too bad considering you get a good chunk of extras on this 2 disc set. It’s got a lot of re-watchability for me, so it’s a reasonable purchase. The 3 disk version costs around $29-$32, but to be honest, I don’t think HD is necessary for this film. It’s set in the 70’s so it’s cool to have a bit of non-glossy look to it. If you want to see the standard extras or bonus collector’s edition goodies, but don’t care about keeping the movie on your shelf forever, rent it and spend the extra cash for some snacks.

Overall Score 8/10