Sunday, April 29, 2007

Up Close And Personal With American Gangster - Part One

Let's break a while from the Janus-faced bawards-forwards looking obsession with Blade Runner for a moment - as truly astonishing as that DVD set is going to be - and concentrate on Ridley Scott's upcoming American Gangster.

I've received a script for the film today, undated and without a title page or writer's credits. As such, I don't know how far removed it is from the film as shot, let alone the film we'll see after post-production hones things further.

But I've read enough scripts now, and seen enough films, even done enough writing and filmmaking myself to know that, really, the overall structure of a story is of absolute fundamental importance. The blueprint for a movie I have in my hands here is going to tell us an awful lot about the finished product.

We'll begin on page one, shall we?


broadcasts silent images of soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam at the height of the war, 1968. A rich, culture, authorative voice offers:

This is the problem. This is what's wrong with America.

The war footage multiplies by twenty, becomes a stack of TVs with proce tags dangling from the knobs.

It's gotten so big you can't find your way.

Two figures come past without looking at the sets - two black men - one in his 60s, the other in his 30s - both wearing expensive suits. The voice belongs to:

The corner grocery's a supermarket. The candy store's a MacDonalds. And this place. Look at it. Where's the personal service? Where's the pride of ownership.

You know who owns this place? The federal government. They won't give you health care, but they'll sell you a TV. Tell me: what right do they have to compete in the private sector?

And so we begin. The concerns of this film are already quite clear.

Bumpy continues his observational stream as he looks around the store... before suffering a heart attack and dying in the Kitchen and Bath department. We cut briskly to his funeral...

The governor of New York is there. The mayor of New York is there, and his entourage. The Chief of Police and other civic leaders. New York cops. Joe Louis and Wilt Chamberlain. Entertainment celebrities. Itallian mob bosses. The press. And, furthest away, in their cars, fitting long lenses to cameras, FBI agents.

Who was this Bumpy? Well, the script tells us before showing us: Bumpy was a Harlem crime lord. I can read this on page 2, though viewers won't know for sure. Bad scriptwriting, if you ask me.

Viewers find out in the next scene, a page-turn later, through the age-old cheat of a news report. More bad scriptwriting? You decide - but it made me make a face, I have to admit.

This TV report comments that Bumpy's death 'marks the end of an era' - just incase we hadn't gathered this from the first scene. On paper at least, this is starting to feel like quite leaden stuff, a bit too on-the-nose, and certainly a little repetetive. Thank heavens somebody as skillful and perceptive as Ridley Scott is in charge.

I've glossed over something important, however: when Bumpy is in the store, he's accompanied by Frank, and Frank is at the funeral and then, it is on Frank's TV we see the news report. Frank Lucas is played by Denzel Washington in the film, one of the two stars. So far, he's been nothing more than an observer.

The other star is Russel Crowe, and we skip over to meet him next. He's playing Detective Richie Roberts.

In his first scene, Roberts is delivering a Subpoena with his colleague Sanders.

They come through a stairwell door and continue along a corridor.

Who's going to do this?

He knows me; he'll take it from me.

Just throw it in, he doesn't take it. That's good service.

He hands Richie a subpoena. They stop in front of a door. Knock. Listen to footsteps approaching on the other side.

The door opens the length of a chain lock, revealing a man in an undershirt. He sees the subpoena and starts to close the door -

Throw it!

As Richie flings the subpoena in, the door slams shut on his hand. He wails in agony; tries to shoulder it open. Sanders too throws his weight against the door but it doesn't budge.

Inside, the man is locking the door with a dead bolt. Blood from Richie's hand runs down the jamb. The man steps back just as the door rips from one of it's hinges and the detectives crash in.

So, there we go - our stars.

Turns out this chap - Campizi - does know Richie and he panicked and slammed the door before recognising him. Things calm down pretty quickly, however, and we get a pretty good idea of Richie's manner. He's a good cop, of course. What's the betting he becomes Franks nemesis, his 'flip-side'? Yep - that old chestnut.

Again - Scott can pull this off, easy. Washington and Crowe can do it too. Let's hope they do.

For a few scenes, we see the roots begin to take hold - Frank is considering picking up the pieces of Bumpy's legacy, becoming the next big thing on the streets; Richie's studying law and nipping at the heels of lower-down hangers on of the gang ladder.

Essentially, we have out set-up. I'll be able to skip ahead some pages for you now..., next time, I will. Stay tuned.

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