American Gangster is a 2007 crime film based on the life of gangster Frank Lucas, a drug trafficker, who was known for his ingenious method of smuggling heroin into the country. He smuggled drugs by way of service planes of the US Army. The movie stars Denzel Washington in the titular role and Russell Crowe. American Gangster is produced and directed by Ridley Scott. Steven Zaillian pens the movie’s screenplay.
American Gangster premiered in New York, the movie’s main setting, on October 20, 2007. It was released on November 2 of the same year in the US and Canada. With a budget of $100 million, the movie earned $266.5 million to date. Critics wise, the movie earned praises and reviews and earned several rewards and nominations to boot.
American Gangster tells two parallel stories – one, of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), and the other, of Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe). Frank Lucas now runs Harlem’s crime scene selling heroin and doing good business, while Richie Roberts is a struggling New Jersey detective who refuses to bend to corruption.
Their stories cross as Roberts sets out to bring down Lucas. It won’t be easy for Roberts though as Lucas has always lived a modest life despite his accumulated riches.
When he first came to Harlem he was told to become a door man at a hotel, but Lucas knew that real money was made on the streets, through casino gambling and illegal drugs.
He eventually slips up and finally, he falls into the hands of Roberts. While Lucas doesn’t care what happens to him, Roberts wanted to clean up the entire force. He offers Roberts a deal – surrender all his offshore accounts and produce a list of all corrupt cops, and he gets a lighter sentence.
Richie Roberts passes the bar exams. Frank Lucas accepts the deal offered by Roberts. Richie Roberts represents Frank Lucas as his first client. Lucas was sentenced to 70 years in prison of which he was granted release after 15 years. He eventually was released in 1991.
Where to begin? While many movies have already tackled the Harlem gang scene, American Gangster has a unique story to tell. It is not your typical gangster movie, and this is what makes it so engrossing.
For a movie over 2 hours’ long, it holds you captivated with its interesting plot, great character development, and thrilling story progression. It builds up that anticipation when both Lucas and Roberts’ parallel stories will finally, finally come together.
While both characters are at opposing ends of the system, both are outcasts. Lucas who decides to take over his dead boss’ business, combining clever thinking, uncanny business acumen, and ruthless nature to ensure success, and Roberts, struggling to uphold his duty to serve and protect despite a system as corrupt as it can get.
The storyline is solid, but the characterization is a total standout. Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Frank Lucas is brooding and intense, perfectly representing the warm and loving family man and the cold, brutal gangster leader who must keep his drug business smoothly running. Russell Crowe impresses as an upright police officer with his strong resolve amidst his personal struggles. Both actors have never portrayed their characters better, but hands down, this movie goes to Washington for great performance. The supporting cast’s portrayals are no different, and they each hold their own fort. Impressive and memorable are Ruby Dee and Josh Brolin.
There’s more to be said about the American Gangster and why it’s surely a hit, but perhaps what stands out most is that it appeals to your emotions. A poor guy who works his way up to become one of the richest businessmen this side of Harlem and provide for his family’s comfort and an unbending law enforcer who, despite all his domestic troubles, still manages to plunge on ahead and finally achieve his goals.
American Gangster is indeed a must-watch and highly recommended!