American Gangster Review

by Ed Lau on November 2, 2007

American Gangster, Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe

Frank Lucas is a frighteningly ruthless man…who takes the time every Sunday to take his mother to church. American Gangster, based on a true story, presents us with a very complex character in Lucas, who grabs our attention immediately with the incendiary (literally) first scene and refuses to let it go for all 157 minutes.

Lucas begins the film as the protege of Bumpy Johnson, a Harlem crime boss that gives away turkeys during the holidays. After Bumpy’s death, Lucas sees an opportunity to take over the heroin trade, putting Bumpy’s teachings to practice: cutting out the middle man, brand power and working for yourself. Actually, other than the heroin, Lucas would be a great case study for any entrepreneurs.

Lucas heads to Vietnam and buys the drugs direct from the source and brings it to the United States. The whole process is genius, really and Lucas is then able to sell heroin at a lower price and higher purity than anyone else on the streets, a product he labels “Blue Magic”. This drives the competition out of business not with the usual gangland firefight but with the laws of economics.

American Gangster, Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe

Frank Lucas is played to perfection by Denzel Washington, who has put on some amazing performances in great roles before. However, this is Washington’s finest hour. He doesn’t ooze Harlem gangster swagger. He stands straight, walks tall and wears impeccably tailored suits. There’s no gold rings or chains to cover up Washington’s almost regal presence. He is smooth, polite and eloquent but not for a second do you question his menace and authority. This is the Frank Lucas, smart and low-key. Even though he controls the New York drug trade, you would never be able to tell.

American Gangster, Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe

Opposite Denzel Washington is Russell Crowe, who plays Ritchie Roberts, a slightly overweight detective in the middle of a custody battle and attending law school at night. The movie tries quite hard to completely contrast the two characters, showing Lucas having an extravagant turkey dinner with his entire family while Roberts eats a chicken and potato chip sandwich alone in his dim apartment.

Roberts doesn’t have a great reputation in his department as he found near a million dollars in drug money and turned it in. Are you kidding me? I don’t know anyone honest enough to turn in a million dollars they just found, let alone money recovered from criminals. This makes Roberts the office pariah as this kind of boy scout honesty means he will most likely turn on any crooked cops working alongside him, and there are quite a few to make that a problem. Robert’s honesty, however, catches the eye of some of his superiors who ask him to head up a special unit in the war on drugs, taking down the big names in the contraband trade.

American Gangster, Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe

Although Crowe’s American accent is a bit shakier than usual (it’s almost completely different in the end than it is in the beginning), he completely looks the part and gives substance and depth to what seems on the surface to be a typical cop role. The supporting cast is also strong with surprisingly good performances from rappers The RZA, Common and T.I. as well as Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Frank’s brother and right hand man, and Josh Brolin, the crooked detective Trupo.

American Gangster, Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe

The movie is mostly divided into two different stories with Washington and Crowe each in his own. The two lines get closer and closer, amazing well told and filmed as they gradually merge for the film’s conclusion. I won’t give away any of the story as nearly every moment is absolutely essential to the overall film. This isn’t the sort of film Ridley Scott is accustomed to making but he has done an absolutely amazing job here. The attention to detail and intricacy is fantastic.

American Gangster, Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe

This is the best movie I’ve seen in awhile and a definite Oscar contender. I highly recommend you check it out.

Verdict: 9.0 out of 10

in Entertainment

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Leo November 3, 2007 at 6:28 pm

While I’m sure this is a great film and I have the greatest respect for Denzel Washington, we need another black gangster movie like we need another black hip hop/rap movie. Time to raise yourself out of the ‘hood and inspire the next generation of inner city youths to become productive members of society.
We see so many affluent and “successful” black artists nowadays that set the wrong tone by bringing the ghetto to the burbs. You’ve done well, help others to do the same and stop the cycle of poverty and poor education.
Take the example of Will Smith, who makes awesome and inspiring films, a true role model and mentor. Even during his early days as a rapper, he followed his grandmother’s advice that “intelligent people don’t need to swear to get their point across.”
Okay, off my soapbox for now ;)


Derrich November 4, 2007 at 5:31 pm

I wanna see a German gangsta film…or something.


Leo November 4, 2007 at 10:31 pm

No way! We need to portray more Germans as Nazis. Can’t get enough of the Gestapo ;)


Ed Lau November 6, 2007 at 3:47 am

LOL…there are too many black gangster movies and not enough nazi movies now?


Derrich November 6, 2007 at 11:20 am

That’s how read into it too. :S

Leo November 6, 2007 at 12:24 pm

Obviously my sarcasm was lost on you two.

Bob Buskirk November 6, 2007 at 2:26 pm

I have to agree a great movie!


Gameinitiator November 24, 2008 at 4:14 pm

This is one of the best movies i had ever seen in gangster films. To think all of this really happened stuns me!


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