Movie Review 2007 #144: American Gangster

On Monday, I went to the theater to see the new Ridley Scott film, American Gangster. It stars Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington.


At over 2 and a half hours, American Gangster chronicles the rise and fall of Frank Lucas, unlikely heir to a Harlem gangster’s empire, and improves upon it, becoming a Heroin kingpin to rival any of the mafia crime bosses. Denzel Washington shows once again he is one of the best actors working today in portraying Lucas as a family man, a man with a strict sense of ethics and a code, and a man who can be absolutely, ruthlessly brutal when he deems it necessary.
Crowe plays Richie Roberts, wannabe lawyer, working as a cop, dealing with a fragmented family life, and his own problems with being too ethical in a sea of crooked cops. Circumstance allows him to get into a position to investigate the flow of illegal drugs into the country, and he slowly begins to realize that it is not the Italian mafia, but rather an unlikely harlem crime lord who is the true kingpin of drugs…
The movie is a slow and patient portrayal of the lives of these two men in the late 60’s, and early 70’s. We do not see the two of them onscreen together until late in the movie (much like Pacino and De Niro in Heat). I do think Washington has the better of it. Crowe is a good actor, but every time the movie cut to his story, I couldn’ t quite wait for it to return to Washington’s portrayal of Lucas.
Still, the movie rewards a viewer without ADHD, and tells a complete story. I think parts of the denouement feel a little off to me. Still, for fans of movies like Goodfellas, King of New York, and Casino, American Gangster stands very well amongst them.