American Gangster (2007) - 2-Disc Unrated Extended Edition

Genre(s): Crime / Drama
Universal || R - 177 minutes - $29.98 || February 19, 2008
Reviewer: Elyusha Vafaeisefat || Posted On: 2008-02-19


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

A U D I O &
.:: V I D E O ::.

Audio and Video

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer(s): Mark Jacobson (article); Steven Zaillian (written by)
Cast: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Brolin, Lymari Nadal, Ted Levine, John Hawkes, RZA, Carla Gugino, John Ortiz, Cuba Gooding Jr., Armand Assante, Joe Morton, Common, Tip Harris


Theatrical Release Date: November 2, 2007


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:
  • Unrated Extended Version
  • Writer & Director Commentary (Theatrical Version)
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Fallen Empire: Making American Gangster
  • Case Files


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Widescreen (1.85)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

IMAGE

After now multiple viewings of American Gangster, I still maintain that it is easily one of the best films of 2007. I think my original review sums up my feelings on the film and how good I think it is. Ridley Scott does an amazing job in putting the film together and the combination of Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington is something that is worth the price of admission alone. You can check out my review here for a more detailed look at my thoughts.

--- Original (Edited) Review ---
In American Gangster, legendary director Ridley Scott brings the story of real life gangster Frank Lucas, who was one of Harlem's most notorious gangsters during the late 60's into the early 70's. Scott decided to cast Denzel Washington in the role of Lucas and Russell Crowe in the role of Detective Richie Roberts, the man who eventually brought Lucas down. As one would expect, both Crowe and Washington are absolutely fantastic in this film.

Denzel gets the more emotional role and brings that character to life while Russell gets the more internalized character and brings him to life. I felt that the character of Richie Roberts was much more interesting and multi-dimensional than that of Lucas'. Roberts' character reminded me a great deal of Frank Serpico (as many have already said) but also that of Sir Thomas More from A Man for All Seasons. All three of these characters stand firm in their beliefs and no matter what, they stick to those beliefs. Nevertheless, it is Lucas' story and Denzel provides plenty of emotion and memorable scenes over the course of the film. The final scene between Crowe and Washington reminded me a great deal of the classic scene between De Niro and Pacino in Heat. Ridley Scott does a fantastic job of creating the tension and capturing the audience's attention. While the two actors do not share a great deal of screen time until the final act, each actor does a fantastic job in carrying their respective portion of the film.

Of course, it takes more than just two legendary actors to carry a film and this is where the great supporting cast comes into play. Josh Brolin, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ted Levine, John Hawkes, Lymari Nadal, Ruby Dee, John Ortiz, Armand Assante, Idris Elba, Cuba Gooding Jr. and RZA (just to name a few) all contribute greatly to likely the best ensemble cast performance of the year. The two standouts from this group are most certainly Josh Brolin and Ruby Dee. Brolin brings the corrupt nature of his character to life as he becomes the bad guy to the bad guy. Had her character been developed a little more, I would most certainly say that Ruby Dee would be the frontrunner for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in any award ceremony.

None of this would come together without Ridley Scott's fantastic direction. While the film is much less stylistic than say The Departed or Scarface, I found this film to be much more mature than either of those films. Scott does a remarkable job in paralleling these two sides as it leads to the climax in the final act. I also couldn't help but notice how proficiently Pietro Scalia's editing of the film was. The final action sequence in the drug house is one of the most intense and edge of your seat shootouts I had seen since the final shootout in L.A. Confidential. The films running time is 160 minutes but thanks to the brisk editing it feels like a 90 minute film.

Like many of the crime dramas before it, American Gangster is a great form of escapism that does glorify the "bad guy" as many of the films of the genre have prior to it. While Lucas is glorified up to a certain point, Ridley Scott still does a great job in balancing the consequences of Lucas' actions.

Ultimately, American Gangster is an intense, gritty, well acted and directed film that is a fantastic addition to the crime drama genre.

--- End Original Review ---

However, the DVD does include an unrated extended edition of the film that runs about 17 minutes longer. While I appreciate the fact that Ridley Scott included both cuts on the same DVD rather than releasing two separate DVD's, I must say that I definitely prefer his original cut of the film. We actually get to see a wide range of scenes added throughout the film. We see a flashback with Frank Lucas and Bumpy Johnson as well as more of Richie and his narcotics squad. I think there was something like a 4 minute sequence that shows the squad staking out Frank Lucas' drug operation. Another interesting scene is where we see Frank help out Joe Louis with his debts. Still, I didn't find any of these additions that drastic a change from the theatrical cut. Where I think the extended cut overstays its welcome is in the final 2 minutes or so of the film where we see Richie and Frank walking the streets of New York after Frank's release from prison. While the scene is good and nice to see on the DVD, I found the tone of the scene to be completely different than what the film leads up to. I found the original ending to be great because we are left to decide what happens to Lucas now that he is free from jail. How different is his world now? How will he adjust? In this extended ending, all those questions are answered and the blanks are filled in for us as the audience. The great thing about the scene is that we get one more scene with Russell and Denzel together but unfortunately, the scene plays more as a comedy than it really should in an intense drama such as this.

Nonetheless, it was nice to see an extended cut and as mentioned earlier, the studio did not have two releases for each cut like many films do these days.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

The only extra on the first disc of the DVD is a commentary from director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Steve Zaillian. Scott and Zaillian cover a wide range of topics over the course of their commentary. As always, Ridley Scott provides a great deal of insight when it comes to all aspects of making the film. We get to hear about the film's journey and how it went through several other directors before Ridley took over. Scott and Zaillian also discuss the real Richie Roberts and Frank Lucas. Other topics discussed are what Ridley Scott thinks makes a "movie" and what makes a "film." Scott also talks extensively about music in his films and the use of a temp track. At one point, Scott even admits to eating a biscuit during the commentary, which is a fun moment. Overall, it's a very insightful commentary because we get to hear from a writer's point of view as well as a director's point of view.

I also wanted to mention that the commentary track is only on the theatrical cut of the DVD and is not available on the extended cut. I would have liked to hear what Ridley had to say about the extended cut and why he added particular scenes into the film.

Disc 2 begins with two short deleted scenes. The first is an alternate opening that in my opinion should have been used instead of the one we see. I think it's a great way to open the film although I really like the opening that Ridley Scott ends up using. I would have liked to see this scene used somewhere in the film though. The second deleted scene is a 3 minute scene of Frank and Eva's wedding. I can see why it was left out because after all, I think everyone can fill in the blanks when it comes to a wedding. We all know the process by now.

I would have liked to see all the deleted scenes in the film included on their own for the DVD. It was nice to see them all included on the extended cut but I think it would have been nice to see them on their own with commentary by Ridley Scott.

Fallen Empire: Making American Gangster is a 5 part documentary covering several aspects of the film.

"The first is Tru Blu: The Real Story" which is a 21 minute look at the real Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts. We get interviews from both of them as well as the cast and crew discussing these two men and the journey they both took to finally meet one another.

"Killer Threads: Costumes" is an 11 minute look at the various costumes needed for the film. Costume Designer Janty Yates discusses how she tried to create clothing that would be appropriate for each character and be of the time. Given the size and scope of the film, I think Yates once again does a great job in creating the costumes for the film.

"Crime War: Production" runs about 21 minutes and is the most interesting of the 5 parts of the documentary. Ridley Scott, Brian Grazer and Nicholas Pileggi discuss how the film was almost made several times before but with Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) as director once and Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) another time before Scott finally took over. Ridley Scott also discusses how they had to work fast to cover the 112 shooting locations needed for the film. Production Designer Arthur Max also speaks about shooting and redecorating Thailand for the scenes needed in the film.

"Into the Arena: Ali vs. Frazier" is a 9 minute look at the short sequence seen in the film. While the actual scene is only 2 or 3 minutes long, it is pivotal in the sense that it changes a great deal because it finally gets Frank Lucas noticed. The cast and crew discuss dressing 1000 extras, hand painting hundreds of inflatable dummies as well as trying to find look-alikes for Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.

"Rhythm of the Street: Sound, Music and Editing" is the final part of the documentary. We get a 16 minute look at how the music was created as well as Pietro Scalia's editing process. Music Supervisor Kathy Nelson and Music Producer Hank Shocklee discuss how they wanted to use music in the film that hadn't been used hundreds of times already. As a result, the film has a wide range of music from R & B, Blues to Funk.

The last portion of extras is separated into a section called Case Files. Here we really get to see parts of the actual filmmaking process.

The first is a "Script Meeting with Ridley Scott", Steve Zaillian and Richie Roberts. In this 8 minute extra, we get to see the process of finalizing a script and how Ridley will ask Zaillian to write a particular scene he has in his head. Even then we see that the film is constantly re-written because some of the sequences discussed were not even included in the final film.

The next behind the scenes look is a 9 minute look titled "Heroin Test Show and Tell". Here, Ridley Scott and his crew discuss how to get the heroin test seen in the film to be as authentic as possible.

The last extra is "Setting Up the Takedown". I found this to be one of the more intriguing behind the scenes looks at the film because there are no interviews with the cast and crew. It's just an 8 minute look at how time consuming it can be to film an action sequence. Those who have seen the film will agree that this is easily the most intense scene in the entire film. We also get to see Russell Crowe providing his input and exchanging his ideas with Ridley Scott.



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

IMAGE

Both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film are presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen. The monochrome look (which is intended by the way) of the film comes off extremely well throughout the film. The various costumes as well as dozens and dozens of locations look great throughout. Some have complained that the film is not "aesthetically pleasing" in terms of its look but I think it fits the film's overall visual style very well.

The audio options for the film are in English 5.1 Dolby Digital with an option in French for the same track. The extended edition of the film is only available in English 5.1. The audio track is as good as one can get in terms of an epic gangster drama.



.::OVERALL::.

The DVD producers did a fine job in creating a great DVD package for a great film. As I keep mentioning, I like the fact that both cuts were included on the same DVD release rather than making fans of the film double dip and buy two versions of the film. While I think the extended cut is a step down from the theatrical cut, it was good to see the deleted scenes incorporated into the film. Often times, I wonder where directors would place a particular scene within a film. Still, I would have liked to see the deleted scenes included individually. There is a wealth of extras covering almost every aspect of the filmmaking experience.

Those who are die hard fans of American Gangster should check out the Three Disc Deluxe release that goes into even more depth in terms of extras. Nonetheless, the Two Disc release is high quality and very well put together to match the quality of the film itself.