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It's in Denzel Washington's eyes throughout Ridley Scott's 'American Gangster' (UNRATED), that derives a mesmerizing slice of Urban Historical Grit. Based Upon a True Story; Washington is playing Frank Lucas, a Real-Life Crime Boss who for a period lasting from the late 1960s into the following decade ran Manhattan "From 110th to 155th, River to River."
A slick character who doesn't need to strut his worth on the streets, Lucas hates flash like a junkie hates rehab; reminding him of all he truly is but doesn't want to be. Facing off against him is New Jersey Narc Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), a womanizing tough guy with a short fuse but a heart of gold. In a Big-City Police Department in the 1970s, boy scout behavior like his could just get you killed — a guy not on the take is seen as the guy who could very well "sell you down the river" when the Grand Jury comes sniffing around.
Scott has a powerhouse going here, tossing these two Hollywood Heavyweights into the ring and letting them play Cops and Robbers; while he slathers on the period detail with a trowel.
Phenominal character actors flood the scenes as well; adding to the cinematic foreplay; (Idris Elba, Jon Polito, Kevin Corrigan, an incredibly sleazy Josh Brolin, and so on). With the specter of Vietnam playing on every television in sight; the Era of 70's plays hard while we also wrap-up in the odd enjoyment one gets from watching Police in the Pre-Militarized, Pre-SWAT days take down apartments with just revolvers, the occasional shotgun, and a sledgehammer to smash down the doors.
Scott's smart enough to let the story cohere organically; without rush, keeping his main contenders apart for as long as possible; creating fully developed characters in their own right and not just developed in opposition to the other.
The film is evenly divided between the Cop's and the Robber's Stories as they come arcing toward each other; but clearly stays the tale of Frank Lucas (the movie's not called 'American Narcotics Detective'), and as one of the most notorious and fascinating Gangsters in American History, Denzel delivers.
Lucas was a country boy from the Carolinas who came up to New York and worked as driver and bodyguard for revered and feared Harlem Crime Lord Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, one of the last of the Great Underworld Bosses. Bumpy taught Lucas everything he knew, so that when he died of a heart attack in 1968, Lucas was ready to take the reins. He almost immediately upset the Mafia, who supplied drugs to "Bumpy", by importing Heroin of unheard purity straight from Southeast Asia and selling it for cheaper than the competition, ultimately doing the criminally unthinkable by becoming the Mafia's supplier.
It's an astoundingly gutsy move, particularly given the array of Corruption and Mafia that arrayed against him, but Denzel's got Lucas' grim determination down cold, and the whole paradigm-shifting event (which included secretly importing the Heroin in the coffins of Dead American Soldiers from Vietnam), an act so perverse, it's hard to swallow.
Crowe is able to play the conflicted hard-case hero with superb élan until he's dragged off the stage. But Denzel has a cold steeliness in his expression that rarely wavers.
While 'Scarface' still holds the American Cinema captive as "Classic"; 'American Gangster' is the next closest thing to it's success; but can't quite reach 'Scarface's' overrall impact. Could anything, though?
Great Film !! SEE THIS !!
I like this movie for what it's worth. We're treated to either side of mobster film, both unlawful and law enforcement; "American Gangster" plays like an assortment of 'Scarface' (there's a ruthless low hit-man becoming a drug emperor), 'The Godfather' (a calm, respectful, business like man rules over his mafia empire), 'The French Connection' (undercover cops go pursuing cryptic criminals in America, who do business in foreign lands), 'The Untouchables' (incorruptible good cop selects hand-picked team of cops he trusts to bring down notorious gangland leader), and you know all the rest. It's an intriguing, entertaining, and entrancing crime story. "American Gangster" is a solid mob movie. It's amazing watching this film and realizing how long he went unnoticed and unsuspected by the NYPD.
Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington hand in non-surprising solid performances and Ridley Scott directs the story tastefully, although it could have used a bit more speed. You find yourself looking at your watch a couple of times. Where Scorsese and even De Palma have directed overlong gangster movies that keep you on the edge of your seat from the first minute to the last, Scott made this one as unagitated as most of his great movies ("Alien", "Blade Runner", "Gladiatior") - and apparently people like him for it, so maybe it's just me who's got a problem with that.
Personally, I didn't feel connected enough. The main characters don't ever meet each other until the very end and then it's over way too quickly. Especially, Denzel Washington's change of ambition seems a bit rushed there and the ending is more than a bit reminiscent of "GoodFellas". Pretty much the whole film doesn't really feel fresh anymore even though I took well to Washington's role. Sure he's just like he is in most of his other movies but we routed for him just like how we routed for Al Pacino in Scarface. In fact, Peter Travers calls this movie the black Scarface. I agree with him partially. The tense job an unbribable cop has to do in a corrupt environment, the schizophrenic life of a gangster who is a loving family man in one minute and brutal killer with no qualms in the next, the glamorous rise and fall of a gangster boss. It never really gets old, but the more movies like this are being made, the less surprising they'll become.
This was a terrific story set in the late 60s and early 70s Harlem. We all like a good "gangster" flick and American Gangster did not disappoint. The writing was excellent and Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe were captivating.
Washington's character, Frank Lucas, is THE gangster of his time. He puts out a superior product at a discount because he cuts out the middle men; ironically, something his mentor complained about in the early moments of the movie. Despite Lucas' evil acts and violence, the viewer becomes somewhat sympathetic to his character by the end of the movie. This is not unlike how a viewer feels kinship with Michael Corleone in the Godfather series.
Frank Lucas ascends the ranks by outwitting and outclassing his competition. His competition includes all of organized crime.
Russell Crowe's character, Richie Roberts, is hell bent on doing the right thing at any given moment. Surrounded by corrupt police, Roberts bucks the trend with so much honesty that he alienates himself. His pursuit of justice also causes him ancillary family problems. Roberts, in the movie, is equally driven to catch the criminals as he is addicted. While his colleague is addicted to heroin, Roberts is addicted to sex. The veiwer watches as Roberts attempts to do what no one has ever done before, while simultaneously facing a hurricane of personal life.
Although the movie is lengthy (2 hrs 40 min for the theatric version), the story tells itself and moves along quite nicely.
This DVD features all the extra scenes that were cut from the original. The viewer is allowed to watch either the original version or the theatric version. Either way, you'll enjoy it!
The story of this real life American is told in such a way as to present what may have been the facts of his life, however morbid or tough they were. It did not attempt to idolize or ostrasize the man and his life, merely present the facts. The screenplay was well adapted. Actor Denzel once again, in the prime of his career, shows his versatility in all roles. A great back up cast, from other Hollywood greats such as Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ted Levine; Josh Brolin, and Ruby Dee. Denzel Washington nails it as the smart and elusive Frank Lucas, who avoids the corrupt law enforcement right down to the time they close in on him. Russell Crowe puts in a strong performance as the overly patient detective, Richie Roberts. Both actors relive the tension between the two characters and make it real as it was. Great directing. A bit long, but never boring, with a 40 minute finish laced with intense violence. Just what was needed to keep you interested in the whole story.
I have always loved gangster movies. I love Goodfellas, The Godfather, The Departed, and so on. American Gangster now enters that mix, as one of the best gangster movies of all time. Denzel Washington plays the heroin dealer who travels to Vietnam to find the best heroin for the cheapest amount of money. By cutting out the middle man, he offers the best product for the least amount of money, thus eliminating his competition who can't compete with him. All the while, he is gathering enemies on both sides of the law. The only problem is that no one knows who he is, until he decides to show up at the Fight of the Century with the best seats in the house, sporting a mink jacket and hat, while talking to other gangsters. That gives law enforcement agents some insight into who The Kingpin is. Russell Crowe plays the agent who heads the team to try to take down Denzel.
I'm not one to give away too much, but it is definitely one of my favorite gangster movies (which means it is one of my favorite movies). Crowe and Washington give absolutely superb performances, and it's confusing why they were snubbed at the Oscars (as was director Ridley Scott). I definitely recommend this movie, especially if you like gangster movies. If you like any of the movies I referred to (Goodfellas, Departed, The Godfather), you'll love this one as well.