Sunday, November 4, 2007

American Gangster & Control, or How it was a black & white weekend

American Gangster
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Denzel Washington & Russel Crowe

Overall, Ridley's film (with a so-so performance by Denzel as the stoic Frank Lucas, and a layered and thoughtful performance by Mr Crowe) feels like a 1970s movie as much as it looks like a movie about the 1970s. Sprawling in scope it reminded me of the meditative pacing of one of 2007's highlights: David Fincher's Zodiac. But while in Fincher's film the slow pacing and the, at times scattered development of the story accentuated our own relationship with the case and Gyllenhaal's Graysmith; here Scott seems to be more interested in painting a huge canvas of New York City's underbelly circa 1970 rather than exploring the potential of the cat-and-mouse that the trailer suggested we'd be watching and thus leads us many places before giving us the 'main course.' I would have personally done away with Carla Gugino's scenes (do we need ms TV Karen Sisco whining about child support in otherwise colourless scenes?) and tried to make American Gangster tighter - it's a bit long, but it does pay off at the end when we are given the tete-a-tete one expects to see when you bill Russel Crowe and Denzel Washington in a Ridley Scott movie.
Everyone's head over heels for it (aren't they always with Ridley?) but it didn't float my boat: I admired Crowe's performance, the editing and the overall minuteness of the production - and as a film its stands on its own, but it lacked the hook I expect in really good movies.

Directed by: Anton Corbijn
Sam Riley, Samantha Morton

Confession: I knew little to nothing about Joy Division (except of course their famous song 'Love will tear us apart' - beautifully used in the film) and yet that didn't stop me from enjoying the sheer cinematic beauty that is this film. Shot entirely in black and white, every frame seemed to have been thought out and executed with the utmost care - anything from a laundry clothesline, to an electric line pole become iconic images in Corbijn's film. But the true tour-de-force of the movie lies solely in Sam Riley's performance. Riley's body, with spastic jerks; Riley's eyes, with a deafening sadness; and his voice, with a constant mixture of anxiety and anguish emotes the full range of Ian Curtis's short and troubled life. Never have I seen a train-wreck been so beautiful, so depressing and so harrowing; props must also be given to Samantha Morton, who in the now-cliched suffering wife role, still manages to make us feel the pain she feels when, among many other things, Ian nonchalantly tells her that if she wanted to sleep with other men, he wouldn't mind because he doesn't think he loves her anymore.
Ultimately, Corbijn's film is a meditation on the loss of control that is powerfully embodied in Riley's performance and framed nicely with Martin Ruhe's cinematography. As one of the reviews in imdb states, it is beautifully depressing.

Supporting Actors note on the Black and White double feature:
- Cuba Gooding Jr: an eternal one-liner since his Oscar win, Gooding Jr makes a cameo-like recurrence in Ridley's movie only to humour the audience with what is arguably the worst taste in 1970s clothing available.
- James Anthony Pearson: in contrast, Pearson (who looks like he could've starred in Jackson's Lord of the Rings as a hobbit - and let no one tell you otherwise, that's a compliment) gives the audience of Control a lesson in brit-school boy fashion (ties, buttoned-up shirts, lacoste cardigans, etc).

1 comment:

POP COLONY said...

You must bow down to Ridley!!! The man made Snoopy say "Shut the F*ck Up!" to Russell Crowe. Aka My favorite part of the movie. My second fave-That's a 20K$ Alpaca Rug. You don't rub you blot. (I happen to be wearing my alpaca sweater so it made me LOL)