Tuesday, December 04, 2007

American Gangster & Enchanted

American Gangster
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Ruby Dee, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin
Grade: C

American Gangster is the perfect example of an incalculable failure. The sum of its meaty parts: the legendary Ridley Scott, Oscar-winning actors Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, and acclaimed screenwriter Stephen Zaillian (All the Kings Men aside) somehow manages to feel routine and completely underwhelming . It's one of those films that is stylish and -- even at 160 minutes -- is fairly easy to sit through; just difficult to take anything from.

Crowe, and particularly Washington, are in stellar form, but only share a couple of scenes in the film, the brunt of the time spent intercutting between the two. The film certainly doesn't work as a fast-paced police hunt, and so tries to atone for this by creating thin similarities between cop and criminal; so much so that they actually seem to enjoy each other's company when they finally do meet (wtf?) -- a finale with a nonsensically epilogue feel about it. Gangster is so far on the outside of its characters and themes that it feels as though they've wiped the board and started again after every scene. There's nothing to learn about anything or anyone in the film, so they really may as well have.

Directed by Kevin Lima
Starring: Amy Adams, James Marsden, Timothy Spall, Susan Sarandon, Patrick Dempsey
Grade: B-

Amy Adams' performance as fish-out-of-water Princess Giselle will undoubtedly emerge as a highlight of this year. One of the best displays to have come out of the genre, and certainly the best since Jamie Lee Curtis' fantastic turn in 2003's hilarious Freaky Friday. Her character really represents Disney in her invasion of the 'real world', almost as a reminder of its existence, and is drawn with gorgeous intentions; the main reason the film works as well as it does. It has been a long time since Disney ruled any roost, but their simple and core values of romance here are as well-conveyed as that of its golden age. It defies opportunities to contradict and modernise itself, batting its narrative eyelid at the complexities of tumultuous relationships. It's dated and naive, but the alienation of such admirable values does make you consider the extent to which the world's view of romance is now so far removed from that, complicated and self-aware.

What I did find a bit strange was Giselle's character arc, which, while genuine, felt much too sudden for me. It's a matter of hours before she turns from crazy cartoon to contemplative human, which made me wonder what on earth she is supposed to have dreamt about that night. Nevertheless, her success as a character and vehicle in the film is unprecedented. But if you thought the summer fantasy Stardust was frantic, it's got nothing on this. Enchanted introduces characters and plot devices with frivolous disregard for cohesion or order. It's a production heightened greatly by the quality of the two leads, and one that only really loses control in the latter stages. It's goofy fun but while Enchanted may falter in its desire to provide the jugular, its tiresome ways are as endearing as a puppy dog: doting, loyal, pure.

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