Late to the party here, but I thought I'd throw this out there: I would've liked American Gangster better had it been titled American Cop.
Much to my surprise Denzel Washington (an actor I love) bored me as Frank Lucas, drug kingpin extraordinaire, while Russell Crowe kept me in the moment, his performance bristling with drive and conflict. This is a problem since the movie probably shouldn't be about Crowe's cop. Supporting characters like Josh Brolin's crooked Detective Trupo and Ruby Dee's Lucas matriarch are scene stealers but they don't have much competition. In scene after scene Denzel stares vacantly from his handsome movie star face telling me nothing about the character that isn't evident from scene one. It's a letdown after his electric Training Day performance and his lively star turn in last year's Inside Man. The material does insist that this performance be more muted (Frank doesn't like showing off) but did he have to remain so vaguely drawn as a character? You can be restrained and still reveal oodles. The examples are numerous... [name your favorite quiet unhistrionic but potent performance in the comments]
American Gangster is solidly made and easy to watch. But it lacks specificity and spark and a strong point of view. Ridley Scott is always a competent 'man behind the curtain' but he seems as personality-free as Denzel this time. When I exited I noticed that Blade Runner was playing in the very next theater. Now there's the auteur at work.
It's disappointing for a drama lover like me to realize that this is the only adult-oriented dramatic film that's catching on this year. It's #24 overall box office wise for 2007, the only true drama that's in the top 50 of the year (unless you want to count 3:10 to Yuma as a drama rather than as an action or a western --the rest of the year's 50 best performers are comedies, action flicks, thrillers and genre spectacles).
Hovering just outside of the top 50 are the dramas that are seen as mild successes or disappointments (depending on budget): The Brave One, Freedom Writers, Michael Clayton and Zodiac. Why weren't there sell out crowds for Zodiac? That's a superior procedural to Gangster... though it's less traditional in that audience friendly protagonist/antagonist way (never mind I just answered my own question), Michael Clayton has ardent fans but it's not truly "popular". Frustrating. American Gangster could learn a lot from that film. It's willing to dig deep into its conflicted character studies.
This is all a long way of saying that I will be disappointed if Oscar chooses a crime procedural for Best Picture and the title is American Gangster rather than Zodiac. I will be disappointed if Oscar chooses a star driven drama for Best Picture and it's Gangster, not Clayton. I gotta go. So much preparing for disappointment to do and so little time to do it in.