The first few days after a dispatch are usually spent in blogger post coitus. I drift from Eastenders to the news then back, perk up for the Sopranos then float into bed for thirty minutes or so with Mario Puzo’s grinning Godfather and friends. I then slip into a deep slumber for a restful night dreaming of garrotings, two-tone wingtips and cannelloni.
Towards the end of the week however things begin to change. I get the itch, and realise I better watch something new soon or risk my reputation with dead air. This week however, the Greater Manchester Bender Weekender got in the way, and I arrived back on Sunday evening an emaciated, dehydrated, and very worried blogger indeed.
Despite the ticking clock however and in a move the great Don would have been proud of, I made a few key decisions and managed to consolidate my media consumption into a manageable 24 hour morsel, and in doing so stoked the fires once more for the informed, witty and ever reverential phenomena that you have come to love and hate as TV Casualty.
On Sunday night Mothers and Grans everywhere were no doubt boiling the kettle in anticipation of Cranford, the latest period drama to satiate the seemingly endless appetite among the British public for bonnets, bodices and bootstraps. Sunday night’s transmission was my second episode, and showed no change of pace as events lumbered on almost imperceptibly.
Set in a rural village in England, the storyline largely revolves around the goings-on and jolly hi-jinks associated with the arrival of a new young doctor in the town. When not giggling about the new doctor, the six or so women who make up the citizenship routinely go into fits about a new railway line and the Irish, who comprise an as yet unseen malevolent presence ready and waiting to corrupt everything they hold dear.
This episode saw Dame Judy Dench, (cast against type as strong, dignified and English) lose her sister then narrowly miss out on her last chance of happiness without shedding a single tear. Meanwhile, a rapscallion Scot with a twinkle in his eye causes good natured havoc, and the Lady of the Manor steps down from her perch to intervene in the wrongfully arrest of vagabond Jambo from Hollyoaks, in doing so saving him and his one hundred snivelling brat kids.
As you might of guessed, Cranford didn’t overly impress, and in a bid to redress the balance I opted to spend my day off in a dark room with strangers in search of something far more up my street.
Following the entwined fortunes of African-American Gangster Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and the honest New York detective tasked with busting his smack ring (Russell Crowe) American Gangster puts a black perspective on the mafia power struggles that gripped New York in the 60’s and 70’s.
The action joins Lucas after his boss and mentor Bumpy Johnson dies, setting him out on the ambitious goal of flooding the streets of Harlem with cheap, good quality heroin from Vietnam. As his operation grows in size, so too do the difficulties involved with keeping the business safe from corrupt cops, rival gangsters and the investigation of Russell Crowe’s drug trafficking task force.
The film is a brave attempt to breathe new life into the genre at a point where my old friend the Soprano’s seems to have said all there is to say on the matter, which at times it succeeds in doing. However, a fatal flaw lies in the film’s apparent inability to adequately balance feelings of admiration and revulsion for the central character, the dichotomy on which all good gangster films make their bones. We never really get under the skin of Lucas, and he never gets under ours, with the end result that his fate becomes largely unimportant.
In addition, It is impossible not to draw comparisons between American Gangster and other mob movies. The poster, set in the black and white hues redolent of Scarface, practically begs it, while the title of the movie places it firmly within and up against the genre. This is a brave tactic and not one which always pays off, as the film balances familiar themes of fraternal betrayal (The Godfather,) police corruption (Serpico,) the dark side of the American dream (Scarface,) and the Irish (Cranford) with the business of telling the story at hand. One good thing to come out of the film however is the city itself, which takes centre stage as New York emerges as decaying and lawless city of bleached beauty and decrepit magnificence.
For fans of the gangster movies, American Gangster is a watchable if flawed addition to the genre, though less than avid viewers probably shouldn’t bother. Although the movie offers a different take on what has previously been dominated by Italian, and to a lesser extent Irish characters, it doesn’t say anything new or with enough eloquence to give it any stand alone appeal.