Monday, August 18, 2008

Monday Movie Day Reviews: Based on True Criminal Events

I'm not sure how this happened, but every one of these films shares two important aspects in common: 1. they are all based on true events, and 2. they are all crime/gangster films.

American Gangster (2007): Directed by Ridley Scott--one of my favorite directors--this story revolves around Frank Lucas, a rising kingpin who transports heroin directly into the US via military cargo planes from Vietnam. Played by Denzel Washington, Lucas is an intriguing and complex character. On one hand, he is a man with principles; he works his way up in the mob through his own hard work and effort; he takes care of his family and the people of Harlem. It's almost admirable. On the other hand, he is an angry and brooding man, driven by a desire to work his way to the top and keep his wealth at any cost. His counterpart, detective Richie Roberts (played by Russell Crowe) has an equally intriguing character--he is an incorruptible cop who turns in $1 million of unmarked bills and passes the bar exam in his spare time, but can't keep his marriage afloat. You're not sure whether to cheer these guys on or hope that they get what's coming to 'em. Both are extremely flawed, but both are also incredibly intelligent and capable of good. Besides the character development of these two individuals, the rest of the film plays out like any other gangster movie you've seen before. There's nothing new here; but these two characters make it an interesting film. I'd watch it again just to analyze the two main guys.

21 (2008): This could have been renamed "Ocean's 11 Jr." A group of M.I.T. students use their math prowess to make millions of dollars counting cards in Vegas blackjack. Sadly, there is very little actual card playing and lot of shallow characters and not-so-interesting plot. Every character comes across as cliche and lacking depth. Even Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey can't help this film out; his character is overly predictable and the script he has to work with is sub-par. There are many scenes intended to show just how "cool" this film is--slow motion casino shots, flashy club scenes, hanging out in limos, etc. What the filmmakers failed to realize is that when you are trying very hard to be cool, you already aren't. And the final message of the film fails to have any redemptive value: crime does pay, as long as you have an interesting story afterwards and you're not arrested. If you have nothing better to do--like sitting on an 8 hour plane ride to Europe--then this film might keep you entertained. Otherwise, it's not worth your time. Go rent Ocean's 11 instead.

The Bank Job (2008): This heist film based on a true story has a very cool concept--robbers steal the contents of safe deposit boxes in a London bank, including some scandalous photos of British royalty, evidence indicting corrupt police, and mobsters' financial records. But interesting concept doesn't equal interesting film. I have to admit, I turned this film off 15 minutes into it. The film opens with scattered scenes of some shady British guys with lots of less-than-clothed women. After fast-forwarding multiple times in an attempt to get past the smut, I just turned it off. But after reading a few reviews online, I gave it a second chance; only this time, I went to the scene selections menu on the DVD and skipped past the 20 minutes of raunchy scenes. It's not just the sexual content; the first half is scattered, confusing, and slow-paced. Characters are introduced at random. If you can get past this less-than-redeeming and very slow and confusing first half, the second half of the film does pick up the suspense and becomes a decent heist film. It's not a great film by any means, and the tolerable ending doesn't make up for the first half. I don't think I can recommend it.

After watching three films about crime and gangsters, I've come to some conclusions about life: crime doesn't pay. (Yeah, I know; pretty deep, huh?) Every character in the film goes through terrible tragedies, including the loss of friends and family, in order to gain something that could be lost in an instant--money. Relationships are destroyed, integrity is compromised, lives are lost. And it's all for the gain of some green pieces of paper that usually ends up disappearing before the film is over. Sure, it's exciting for a moment. The main characters in the film are seen as cool, smart, or even heroic for their less-than-honest exploits. But at the end of the film--and the end of our lives--the obsessive desire for wealth doesn't pan out to anything valuable. It's enough to keep me from becoming a mobster.

No comments:

Post a Comment