American Gangster, starrting Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe was a painful Godfather-wanna-be waste of my time. I wasn’t sure if the scenes that were directly ripped off from the Godfather, Goodfellas, or Scarface were intended to be seen as homages to those originals or as unnoticed acts of petty larceny. Whatever it was, the film was actually nothing more than a remake of Catch Me If You Can with Denzel playing Leonardo Dicaprio and Russell playing Tom Hanks.
Denzel is the least believable drug-lord imagineable and Russell’s character’s personal life is utterly irrelevant to the development of the story. The movie’s pivotal turning point is both blatant and silly (Denzel being convinced to wear a fur coat by his wife). I wasn’t expecting much, but after having read positive reviews, I guess I set myself up to be disappointed.
Then, I watched Ang Lee’s latest, Lust and Caution, an undeveloped and uninteresting story about a group of Chinese students who try to kill a Japanese collaborator in 1942 Japanese-occuppied Shanghai. Unfortunately (and possibly simply due to the fact that I am not Chinese), I wasn’t able to feel a strong compassion for or interest in the students’ cause or a hatred for the collaborator/bad guy. A predictable love affair arises between bad guy and the student whose role it is to spy on him as his lover. Whether it is a real love affair on the student’s part and whether sacrificing love and life for national resistence is worth, I suppose are the film’s themes. I don’t know, and in fact, I don’t care.
Nevertheless, both of the main actors, Wei Tang and Tony Leung, are the film’s only saving grace. Leung is one of the top five actors out there today. This guy can play any role and acts circles around Russell Crowe or Denzel Washington any day.
I suppose I was more disappointed in Lust and Caution than American Gangster. Ang Lee has directed one of my most favorite first scenes of any movie, so I was expecting more.