Blade Runner

15 01 2008

Blade Runner1982 was a good year for science fiction on film: on the one hand you had Steven Speilberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, which was one of those inescapable blockbusters that was as much an event as a film; on the other hand we were given John Carpenter’s The Thing, which seemed to be the cinematic inverse of Spielberg’s offering. Transcending that dichotomy, however, was Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, a futuristic film noir that is arguably the most important science fiction film of the 1980s — certainly, it was one of the most influential.

It is Los Angeles in 2019, and within the urban decay are four rogue “replicants” — sophisticated androids that are virtually indistinguishable from humans. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a former blade runner — a detective charged with tracking down and “retiring” (i.e. killing) rogue replicants — and he’s brought back on the job to retire the current four who are still on the loose.

Blade Runner is an important film for a number of reasons. Firstly, it helped to define the “cyberpunk” subgenre: its world was a grimy, sprawling urban landscape fused with high-tech industry, and this became the paradigm upon which so much science fiction was later built. Secondly, its themes of humanity, creation and the nature of memory are dealt with seriously but never in a heavy-handed manner. And finally, it’s yet another case of a film that was relatively unsuccessful at the time of release but whose influence was so marked that it’s now regarded as a classic almost by default.
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American Gangster

15 01 2008

American GangsterEarly in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, Russell Crowe’s character, a New Jersey detective, discovers almost $1 million in unmarked bills in the trunk of a car. Does he take the money? If he does, he’s entering into the murky world of corruption that the bulk of his colleagues seem to inhabit; if he doesn’t, he’s putting himself in immediate danger because, as his partner observes, “Cops kill cops they can’t trust.” He decides to turn in the money anyway.

On one level, American Gangster is the true story of the rise and fall of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), a self-made man who became Harlem’s heroin kingpin in the 1970s by directly importing his product from Thailand and cutting out the middleman. Lucas was a true entrepreneur, applying a ruthlessly capitalistic philosophy to the drug trade — he undercut the competition (who just happened to be the Mafia) by offering twice the quality at half the price.

On a deeper level, however, the film is about police corruption. Scott and screenwriter Steven Zaillian seem to contend that dirty cops are even worse than the criminals they bully. Washington’s Lucas adheres to his own (albeit twisted) code of ethics — he will snap quickly and mercilessly at anyone who betrays his trust, but he only does what he thinks he needs to do in pursuit of his business goals. The sleazy Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin), on the other hand, has no honour, instead abusing his power in order to extort as much money as possible from the men he should be arresting. Trupo, it seems, is the real bad guy here.
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