American Gangster

Viewed – 22 March 2008  DVD

(Theatrical cut)

This epic gangster tale follows the true story of small time Harlem gangster Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) who during the 70s lead the market in drug trafficking in New York, soon becoming more wealthy and respected than even the Mafia.  Hot on his heels is Russell Crowe as Richie Roberts, one of the few remaining incorruptible Cops in New York who finds himself battling the drug dealers and his fellow cops too ready to take payment and turn a blind eye.

Although rather complex (and at times a little vague with the details), this atmospheric movie still pulled me in with Denzel’s as expected power-house performance as the charismatic Frank Lucas, as well as Crowe’s surprisingly softer edged Richie proving he doesn’t need to play hard men to deliver the goods.

Even though director Ridley Scott is not normally the person I would associate with this sort of story (that honour would normally go to Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee), I am happy to report that he has made an intelligent and gripping film that is shot through with his usual superb attention to detail (New York is transformed wonderfully into the 70s and you don’t doubt it for a second).  Saying that, I feel that like Scorsese’s Goodfellas / Casino the film would have benefited from a voice over (probably from Crowe’s character).  Also for this material the film is pretty tame when it comes to violence, although still disturbing during its drug taking sequences and the fact Lucas smuggled back heroine in dead Marines coffins.  Shudder.  Also some of the other characters are a little wafer thin, especially Cuba Gooding Jnr’s rival gangster whose presence brings little to proceedings, verging on the pointless.

Overall though, this is well worth your time and proves once again that Denzel Washington is one of the best around and Ridley Scott just doesn’t know how to make a bad film, even if he isn’t quite the master of the gangster pic just yet.

Verdict:  4 /5

1 thought on “American Gangster

  1. Sounds like this film is pretty good but like it might be a bit sprawling and vague. Will have to try and watch it. I’m not so sure about Ridley Scott these days though – I’ll always take ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’ over ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. What I’m really keen to see is if he does a good job with Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’ later this year.


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