Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Navigating a path between The Godfather and The French Connection

In his review of American Gangster a well known critic described, with some reverence, how Ridley Scott’s latest crime thriller sucessfully wound its way around earlier examples of the genre to position itself in the cannon. But surely you want a new film to do something new? To somehow become more than the sum of it’s influences? How did a derivative genre re-hash come to be accepted as superior entertainment? Like a plate of re-heated afters, you can vaugely make out what the meal might have been but what’s on your plate is little more than lukewarm stodge which, edible as it may be, doesn’t come close to the full flavour of a piping hot main course served fresh out of the oven.

When Sunshine was released earlier in the year Danny Boyle described how it is very hard to make a decent science fiction film nowaddays without invoking the ghosts of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris or Alien, so he decided it was necessary for his film to pay lip-service to these ‘greater’ films. My question is, how did any of the people behind the aforementioned ventures manage to avoid subservience. How were they able to overtake their influences? How did Bob Dylan emerge from the shadow of Woody Guthrie to become Bob Dylan?

American Ganster has the same problem, Ridley Scott seems so entranced by The Godfather, The French Connection, Serpico and Heat, he fails to make it clear where they end and his film begins. What emerges is a watchable but largely bland wander through a potted history of familiar favourites.

The source material provided by the true life story that inspired the film seems far more rich on paper than the story the film provides. For example, all through the film we are given brief glimpses of Russel Crowe’s character, Richie Roberts, studying to become a lawyer, and at the end of the film, having caught his man, we see him prosecute Frank Lucas and get him convicted. The film ends there and we are told, in writing, about Richie Robert’s subsequent move from the prosecution to the Defence Office where his first client was… Frank Lucas. I want to see that story!