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'American Gangster': An American Critique

The expansive new mob drama American Gangster stars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Fresh Air's film critic says it's a whopping overdose of perverse '70s nostalgia, a panoramic portrait of a nation disintegrating from moral rot.

But the charismatic real-life monster who inspired the film — a druglord who exults in his scams and brags about his murders — has become so controlled, and domesticated, that even with Washington's star power, he doesn't carry the movie. Crowe, credible as an obsessed detective, helps somewhat. But ultimately the movie feels like Scarface drained of blood, at arm's length from the culture that spawned it.

Copyright 2023 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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David Edelstein is a film critic for New York magazine and for NPR's Fresh Air, and an occasional commentator on film for CBS Sunday Morning. He has also written film criticism for the Village Voice, The New York Post, and Rolling Stone, and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times' Arts & Leisure section.