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The Films Of Ridley Scott: A Retrospective

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist June 7, 2012 at 12:00PM

Ridley Scott is, in some circles anyhow, a god. Practically treated as royalty with laudatory genuflection from certain film enthusiasts — generally genre fetishists — he has turned in two unimpeachable cinema touchstones, "Blade Runner" and "Alien," plus a few other arguable modern semi-classics including "Black Hawk Down" and "Gladiator." But his track record overall? Scott's batting average isn't exactly amazing across the board, and while he has major peaks, his work can be frustratingly uneven for someone who is clearly and masterfully talented. While a craftsman of technically marvelous and grand spectacle cinema, his films can also be inordinately soulless and have become increasingly so with each film (Sigourney Weaver famously said that Scott paid more attention to the props and extraterrestrials than the actors on "Alien," but somehow that picture still worked).
American Gangster

"American Gangster" (2007)
This is probably one of the few Scott movies we wouldn’t mind he sequelize, if only because like “Robin Hood,” it’s clear he focused on the least interesting part of the story. Like “Robin Hood,” which was originally a dual-identities sort of experiment before becoming an origin story, “American Gangster” ends with a post-script informing us of the unusual working relationship between the two characters we just watched clash, coke entrepreneur Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and city cop Ritchie Roberts (Russell Crowe). We walk away from the movie forgetting Lucas’ too-glammy criminal capitalist enterprise and the obvious dichotomy between his family life and Roberts’ own broken home, but remain enthused by the idea of Roberts’ second career as a defense attorney taking Lucas as a client and shortening his sentence. That's the movie we would have preferred to watch. [C]

Body Lies

"Body of Lies" (2008)
While charged with being an empty and empty-headed political thriller — it's a spy film about a CIA operative who uncovers a lead on a major terrorist leader suspected to be operating out of Jordan — it does two important things: proves Russell Crowe is a fine (arguably better) supporting actor especially when he is subverting his tough guy, alpha male characters (it might be his most interesting work since "The Insider"), and it might have been the first picture where we actually bought Leonardo DiCaprio as a full-blown adult (as opposed to say, "The Aviator," where you say, hey there's that kid DiCaprio trying to play Howard Hughes). It also boasted nice turns by Mark Strong and Oscar Isaac as well, leading Hollywood to recognize both of their strengths, and Scott to bring them both back for his next picture. It's also pretty damn entertaining, even if it's insignificant. [B-]

Robin Hood

"Robin Hood" (2010)
As one of the most frequently filmed tales in cinema history, how would Scott, reuniting with Russell Crowe once again, find a fresh spin on "Robin Hood?" By 1) making it a prequel and 2) making it incredibly boring. The trend of late seems to have been using prequels to tell the least interesting part of a story, and that's kept up here -- we discover how Robin Hood (Crowe) became the folk hero, but don't get to see much of what's made the tale so popular over the years, with Scott stripping out the robs-from-the-rich-and-steals-from-the-poor theme, and replacing it with a Tea Party-style message about how unfair it is that millionaire Ridley Scott has to pay his taxes. The "Gladiator"-style action suffers from a severe case of diminishing returns, and the performances, even from greats like Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong and William Hurt, are flat and tedious, saved only by the sneeringly entertaining Oscar Isaac as Prince John. If Scott's aim was to make "Kingdom of Heaven" look better in retrospect, then he succeeded. [D-]

— Rodrigo Perez, Oliver Lyttelton, Gabe Toro, Drew Taylor, Alish Erman, Ben Webster, Kevin Jagernauth

This article is related to: Features, Ridley Scott, The Essentials, Prometheus, Alien, Blade Runner

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