This viewer rented the DVD form of AMERICAN GANGSTER, having passed it by in the theatrical run, thinking that it was yet another 'crime and corruption in New York' genre film. It was surprising to discover that this very long film (just under three hours in the Unrated version) is completely riveting and in a way far different than the usual gangster film: this story, based on real people as outlined in an article by Mark Jacobson (transformed for the screen by Steven Zaillian), and while it has its share of grisly killings, it seems more concerned with the issues of integrity in the face of police corruption as embodied in the character of Richie Roberts, the etiology of the heroin use escalation following the Vietnam War, and the presence of a 'Black Mafia' lead by one Frank Lucas. It is delivered with compelling gusto and intelligence by director Ridley Scott and has some of the best acting of the year. In other words, this is not a film to be lightly dismissed as a Hollywood retread, but instead it is a tense drama with many very fine points.
Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) follows the footsteps of his idol Bumpy (Clarence Williams III) who 'ran' the Harlem streets, and when Bumpy dies, Lucas inherits his mantle. Lucas is wise, cunning, a gentleman, a powerhouse of ideas, and quickly finds a way to bring the best uncut heroin from the Far East to the streets of New York at a price that undercuts the other mobsters' product. To establish his control he enlists his family, including his brother Huey (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and rapidly becomes the kingpin of the streets.
Simultaneously within the NYPD we meet Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) whose personal life is a mess but who, with his partner Lou (Ted Levine) discovers corruption in the NYPD and more particularly the Drug Enforcement sector of the police: Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin) works with the existing drug lords, grabs their drugs and money and then recycles both to his benefit. During a particular drug bust, Richie and Lou discover a stash of nearly a million dollars and turn the money into the police - a deed that makes the duo seem foolish and lose the respect of their fellow cops but establishes Roberts as a man who is committed to being a good detective.
From these two separate studies the film weaves the development of each character and the interaction between Roberts and Lucas we know will take place. The end result may be known to those who followed the story as it developed in the 1970s, but for those for whom this true story is new information, the resolution of the film is fast-paced, thrilling, illuminating, and just plain fine cinema. Both Washington and Crowe are in peak form, as are those in the many small roles (Ruby Dee, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Lymari Nadal, Carla Gugino, Cuba Gooding etc). This is more of a drama than an action film and while many may feel the final moments of the movie are weak, they do reveal the true ending of the story and say a lot about the narrow line between crime and criminal investigation. This is one of Ridley Scott's most successful films and one that will be around for many years as a model for the medium. Grady Harp, February 08
It is very hard for me to ever say no to a movie, but for a while I had stayed away from American Gangster. I had gotten some mixed reviews about it and I was also told it was extremely long. However, I finally gave in on Monday and watched it after my friend Laura told me it was worth it. While I still think it was a bit to long, the film was spectacular. The acting performances given by both Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe were superb and oscar worthy. This … more
This movie starts a little slow than picks up about midway to a fairly rapid end. Though not quite as good as Serpico, it is a good film nevertheless. Denzel Washington as Frank, the protege of the mob boss who ran Harlem. Frank learned everything from him such as keeping a low profile away from his business and being good to the neighborhood. Frank seems to elude all the police scrutiny until an organized crime unit in New Jersey headed by Russell Crowe (Ritchie) realizes that Frank must be someone … more
It's Harlem, 1968, and "Bumpy" Johnson is speaking to his driver and right-hand man Frank Lucas (the amazing Denzel Washington). Bumpy laments the loss of the middleman in business, the jobs lost to overseas companies, the end of the era of the working man. When Bumpy dies and Frank takes over, he omits the middleman too and purchases his heroin directly from Bangkok and ships it via military aircraft through Vietnam to the US. Frank is on his way up, and he doesn't let anyone stand in his way, … more
This is a very long and dark film based on a true story (with embellishments), and is set in Harlem and New Jersey during the time of the Vietnam War. The first part of the story is about Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) a driver and enforcer for a leading Harlem gangster, who decides to get his own piece of the action when his boss passes away. Lucas goes about his business by getting his goods direct from the source, cutting out the middlemen and selling a high quality product … more
Pros: acting, cast, imagery, directing Cons: long length, historical significance, some unnecessary subplots The Bottom Line: Across 110th street, pushers won't the junkie go free. Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot. In the New York City of American Gangster, it's hard to tell the cops from the criminals. Police officers consistently accept bribes from criminals, get a little overzealous … more
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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American Gangster is a 2007 crime film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Washington portrays Frank Lucas, a real-life gangster from Harlem who smuggled heroin into the United States on American service planes returning from the Vietnam War. Crowe portrays Richie Roberts, a detective attempting to bring down Lucas' drug empire. Filming was done on location in New York City. American Gangster was released in the United States and Canada on November 2, 2007. The film was also nominated for two Academy Awards, including a notable Best Supporting Actress nomination for Ruby Dee who appears on screen for less than 10 minutes.
Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas
Russell Crowe as Det. Richard "Richie" Roberts
John Ortiz as Javier Rivera|Det. Rivera
Lymari Nadal as Eva Kendo Lucas
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Huey Lucas
Josh Brolin as Det. Trupo
Ted Levine as Capt. Lou Toback
RZA as Moses Jones
Malcom Goodwin as Jimmy Zee
Ruby Dee as Mama Lucas
Armand Assante as Dominic Cattano
Cuba Gooding Jr. as Nicky Barnes
Roger Guenveur Smith as Nate
Carla Gugino as Laurie Roberts
Idris Elba as Tango
Jon Polito as Rossi
Roger Bart as U.S. Attorney
Clarence Williams III as Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson