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American Gangster

By Peter Doherty


As Chuck and Flav might say "Don't Believe the Hype". The posters around Liverpool and presumably the rest of the UK promise untold riches for the viewer. Sadly it's not to be. Now don't let the beginning of this review put you off, it's a decent enough film and certainly 10 times better than the woeful "The Departed". Denzel Washington is his usual exemplary self as Frank Lucas, the Harlem drug lord upon who's life the film is based and Russell Crowe is decent enough as Richie Roberts the cop who breaks him, although his American accent can seem a bit ropey at times. Itís no Godfather, Casino or Sopranos. More a Bronx Tale than a Corleone one.

                    First off itís not balanced. The background is built up over a couple of hours, man works for gangster, gangster dies, man takes over gangsters domain, breaks competition, makes fortune selling smack, gets busted by good guy cops, bad guy cops rip off everyone. Good guys as expected. For instance, the fact Lucas just seems able to pop up in the jungle of South East Asia to score the biggest amount of pure smack imaginable, during the middle of the Vietnam War dressed in US Army fatigues, after a couple of phone calls, is bizarre. Also Crowe's marital problems are an incidental that seem to be there only to make his "Good Guy Cop" seem even more squeaky clean. Lucas shoots one rival in the streets of Harlem and all competition, apart from a flaky Nicky Barnes played by Cuba Gooding, disappears. This just makes the whole film lop-sided and very snippety.  The problem is that it takes so long to get to here and then bang itís over. All comes tumbling down and the end is a 5 minute sequence of leftovers. The end should have been expanded on with the build up cut a bit. It relates to the biggest ever bust of NYPD drug cops on the take but passed in a second. Maybe the Sopranos has made gangster movies obsolete with its depth due to 13 episode series. This certainly felt like a mini-series chopped up but that shouldn't put you off. It's still worth seeing and we can't say that often at our age campers.     


Z Channel Ė A Magnificent Obsession


This gem is available on DVD or on Sky where I was lucky enough to catch it. It is a "talking head" documentary about a much missed LA cable channel that could have been Swine TV judging by the content. The genius and decent into madness of Jerry Harvey the programming director is really the dual theme of the film. Stars, directors and staff at the channel discuss how it was launched, how Harvey's exemplary taste and bravery to screen supposed bombs pushed the channel to a dedicated audience and how finally it was defeated when big Media saw an opening and it tried to hard to expand itself. Watch it and tell me you don't come away with at least a few films to keep an eye out for. I'm waiting for "The Leopard" with Burt Lancaster after watching Z Channel. By the way check out Tarantino. If further proof was needed that he's not all there this just might be it. Oddball and no mistake.





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