DVD Review: 'American Gangster: Three-Disc Collector's Edition'
Extra footage doesn't improve Ridley Scott's gangster drama, but the bonus features are bountiful
No director in recent memory has taken more pleasure in remixing and reediting his own films than Ridley Scott, who's never been able to resist a return trip to the cutting bay. This reviewer actually had high hopes for the "American Gangster: Unrated Extended Version," since to my mind the actual film never found the right balance between the stories of drug kingpin Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and conflicted cop-turned-lawyer Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), resulting in a film that was an assemblage of excellent scenes that never fully gelled.
Unlike Scott's revised versions of "Blade Runner" (still subject to endless debate within the sci-fi community) and "Kingdom of Heaven" (which turned an atrocious theatrical cut into a near-masterpiece), the new "Gangster" isn't billed as a "Director's Cut," and Scott and screenwriter Steven Zaillian provide their commentary track with the original cut, rather than the new version. The extended cut contains 18 additional minutes, which neither enhance the overall tone of the movie nor detract. The most noticeable difference is a sentimental expansion of the film's ending, which gives the film's A-list stars a little additional time together. In addition to that expansion, the second disc has deleted scenes including an alternate version of the opening, featuring one of the most evocative shots from the trailer, an image left out of the theatrical cut.
DVD Bonus Features:
The Good: The feature-length making-of documentary "Fallen Empire" -- featured on the second disc along with "Case Files," a multi-media look at the real events of the movie -- is full of useful tidbits of information, including all of the exposure to the real Lucas and Roberts that viewers could ever want. It covers all of the technical aspects of the film, from its Oscar nominated art direction to the period costumes to an extended look at the Ali-Frazier fight that's one of the movie's centerpieces. This is one of those instances in which it might have been better to package the behind-the-scenes materials as a series of individual featurettes, rather than squishing them together as one documentary that lacks a through-line and flow. In both "Fallen Empire" and the writer-director commentary, it's interesting to hear the filmmakers discuss their desire to avoid making a film that glorified a pusher and killer and yet their utter adulation for Lucas is clear in every frame.
The Bad: The material on the third disc is interesting, but mostly repurposed. There's a "Dateline NBC" report on the movie, plus a BET special on the movie that's in many way better than the documentary on the second disc. Given Lucas' near-mythic status in hip-hop culture and the presence of a number of musical heavyweights -- including RZA, Common and T.I. -- in the cast, it's no wonder that the third disc includes a pair of videos generated by the film and "Hip-Hop Infusion," a featurette that includes Common and T.I. The third disc also includes a digital copy of the movie, though it's interesting that the digital copy is of the unrated cut, rather than the actual movie. It's also a little disappointing for this Mac owner that the digital copy is PC-only.
The Price: $34.98 for the three-disc version and $29.98 for the two-disc set.