February 14, 2008
| by Rachel Cericola
Despite the waning popularity of HD DVD, all high-def owners have to be a little psyched about the release of “American Gangster.” The combination of director Ridley Scott and Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe is something that all movie fans can appreciate.
Those three names might be enough to inspire some viewers to quickly plunk down cash on this new release, but don’t be too hasty. While the movie might qualify as a “must see,” you don’t need to run out and add it to your collection—at least not in high-def.
Based on a true story, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) inherits a heroin business and quickly builds it into an empire. Of course, this makes him public enemy number one for Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), one of the few uncorrupted cops left on the force.
The movie, although well acted, seems like a bit too reminiscent of “The Godfather” and “Platoon,” with a bit of “Training Day” thrown in for good measure. Bake all of these ingredients for 158 minutes, and you should have Scott’s Oscar moment. It will certainly hold viewers’ attention, but most of the film just doesn’t quite live up to Universal’s marketing hype or the acting chops of its extremely large all-star cast.
The film drags in some spots, but does hold a few surprises and edge-of-your-seat moments. However, like the film itself, this combo release has its share of disappointments. First of all, it includes the “unrated extended version” with an extra 18 minutes that never aired in theaters—on the standard-definition side of the disc. Is that to make sure someone is actually watching that side?
The audio is fine in 5.1 and the soundtrack and music used portray the time period nicely. However, the color just doesn’t hold a candle to the film’s content. It’s a dark movie—the kind that you almost have to squint to watch because it’s so dark. However, the blacks just seem a bit washed. The green fields of war-torn Vietnam, the family dinners, and a death by piano (yes, you read that right) should be a bit brighter than what’s being depicted here on-screen.
The final blow is that the extras are almost non-existent, with the major exception being the aforementioned 18 minutes on the standard-def version. However, the only other extras are one featurette and the obligatory commentaries, deleted scenes and movie trailers. If this is Universal’s great hope for saving HD DVD, it’s extremely disappointing. Maybe they are saving the real goodies for when it goes Blu-ray.
Over the past 15 years, Rachel Cericola has covered entertainment, web and technology trends. Check her out at www.rachelcericola.com.