American Gangster

American Gangster

(2008)

Nobody used to notice Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), the quiet driver to one of the inner city's leading black crime bosses. But when his boss suddenly dies, Frank exploits the opening in the power structure to build his own empire and create his own version of the American dream. He comes to rule the inner-city drug trade in the 70s, flooding the streets with a purer product at a better price. Lucas outplays all of the leading crime syndicates and becomes a civic superstar.... More

Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is an outcast cop close enough to the streets to feel a shift of control in the drug underworld. Roberts believes someone is climbing the rungs above the known Mafia families and begins to suspect that a black power player has come from nowhere to dominate the scene. Both Lucas and Roberts share a rigorous ethical code that sets them apart from their own colleagues, making them lone figures on opposite sides of the law. The destinies of these two men will become intertwined as they approach a confrontation where only one of them can come out on top.Hide

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Flicks Review

On his checklist of genres, director Ridley Scott ticks off 'retro crime movie' and gives us a lengthy but satisfying epic. More 'brawn' than 'brains', but well worth a look.

The unfortunate thing about the hype for American Gangster is, for me anyway, that the names Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington conjure up feelings of stuffy, cigar-chomping megalomania. Scott, in particular, has in recent years been a bit guilty of churning out rather stolid chunks of blockbuster – decent but never adventurous. Crowe hasn't faired much better ever since his public life revealed him to be a king-sized prat. And Washington, well, he's been in so much bland tripe involving 'inspirational' stories that he's become a bit of a one-trick pony.

It's a pleasant surprise, then, to find American Gangster a rather absorbing drama that comes close to, but never quite matches, a couple of classic crime movies, namely Goodfellas and The French Connection. As a period movie, the attention to detail is quite remarkable. As an epic - Scott's specialty - it certainly has an all-enveloping wow-factor.

Washington gives an interesting performance as villain Frank Lucas. Rarely dipping into the realm of 'pure evil', his gangster is in fact a consummate businessman who loves his mum; a true entrepreneur who wins sympathy with a solid work ethic and a canny mind. Crowe is content to play more of a supporting role, but the performance is certainly one of his best to date. Less showy, more earthy; his loner cop provides the perfect counterpoint to Lucas.

Scott keeps the pace tight with a well-structured script and some judicious editing that manages to keep the film treading the fine line between drama and high-tension shoot-outs.

A weakness, unfortunately, is the film's tendency to feel like a smorgasbord of riches. One feels as if they've eaten too much, and that the curried eels and the cr?me brulee might look good on the plate but don't sit well together in the stomach. Crowe gets a useless subplot involving an estranged wife, and the way that Lucas receives the celebratory treatment is a bit sickening considering the number of people that died as a result of his criminal ways.

But American Gangster remains a well-made and lavish crime epic. All the elements are there, it's just a shame that they don't quite add to a cohesive whole, and that the film never reaches the giddy heights of invention that its predecessors in the genre managed with ease.


The Peoples' Reviews

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Based on a true-story; ‘American Gangster’ is mostly a reliable and easy-to-watch drama about a Harlem crime syndicate in the 1970s; and an honest cop’s journey catching them. It stars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe; and is directed by legendary film-maker Ridley Scott. The performances are seemingly high-calibre and direction first-class. Most points of the film evolve naturally; and it takes you right into the characters’ world. However, this says more about the polished... More direction rather than the whimsical and contrived story which aims for a nicely packaged ending.
Following the death of his employer and mentor, Bumpy Johnson, Frank Lucas (Washington) establishes himself as the number-one importer of heroin in Harlem. Lucas cunningly buys heroin directly from the source in South East Asia during the Vietnam War; and he devises a clever strategy of smuggling the narcotics into the United States; making his stash the most superior product available in Harlem.

Lucas proceeds to establish an alliance with the New York Mafia to ensure his position as Harlem king-pin. Meanwhile, there is a dedicated and honest cop; Richie Roberts (Crowe) who heads up a joint narcotics task force with the help of the Federal government to target Lucas’s crime syndicate and take him down.However, Roberts has his own problems - battling a crippling divorce, corrupt police colleagues, and his penchant for the ladies. Roberts has enough to keep him busy, not to mention passing the bar (studying law at night-school). Moreover, Roberts and Lucas (Washington) both survived to tell their tales to Hollywood.

The problem is that there is something missing from the story; something that leaves the viewer questioning. In today’s climate, audiences want more than warm-fuzzys and happy-packaged endings. And that’s all this film can offer; nothing but smoke and mirrors.

Although this film had some dark subject matter; it is little wonder why the Oscars were awarded to films that had more depth, more grit, more realism, and more truth. ‘American Gangster’ is good, but just isn’t that good.Hide


BY Brian1 superstar

that it was based on fact gave this story a element of "must see".
It tells of some of the interesting aspects of NY crime in days gone by, such that contributed to the city being the most dangerous on earth back then.
Whilst seeming like just another in this genre, the black rather than Italian, who briefly topped the gang scene made the difference.


I think, and watching American Gangster confirmed for me, that Ridley Scott has nothing. He's one of Hollywood's most boring directors - alongside Ron Howard.

The film is OK and certainly very watchable. But where's the bite? Where's the angle? The story is told as predicatably and as contrived as possible. Any interest comes from that it's a "true story"... otherwise American Gangster is dull, and shows little creativity or energy. Crowe sank to the same level - the most boring I've seen... More him.

You could see it, but really, why would you. You've seen it all before. I don't recommend.Hide


saw this last night. It's OK, pretty good, but not great. can see why some people might like it. but i think it had too many ideas. am i meant to be watching a story about a drug lord, or about how a cop who sets up the first federal run narcotics team in New York, or about how one third of new york cops in the 60's were corrupt?? all great ideas, but becuase the film covers all three lightly instead of one deeply and then tries to bolster bums on seats with some random scenes of boring action,... More you are left feeling a little underwelmed.

Also, Crowe looks out of practice (a little like his cousin Jeff towards the end of is tenor with NZ Cricket) and is Denzel the most one dimensional actor of the generation? must we see him play the exact same emotionless, hard talking character in every movie he stars in?Hide


best drama i've ever seen, actually one of the best movies i've seen in a long time. seen it twice, even.

it's a type movie where you're eyes are constantly glued to the screen keepin you in suspense throughout the whole movie. it's drama-based, but has a bit of a thrill ride and some action as well. you can't ask for more with this movie. everytime it smak'd the build up with the climax, it just doubled up for more. you couldn't ask for a better lead character here, too. denzel was the man... More in this movie. i mean he practically sold it. this is him at his best. the character he played was unpredictable, man. one moment he's all cool, calm and respectful, next minute he's guns a blazing, poppin people's heads, gettin all crazy from out of nowhere. man, he even had me freakin out. i was like "what the... can he just do that?", and even though he was a big time drug-lord, you just couldn't help but sympothize with him in alot ways, especially when he went down. neway.... definitely worth every penny, 10/10 from meHide


The Press Reviews

80% of critics recommend.
Rotten Tomatoes Score. More reviews on Rotten Tomatoes

  • BBC

    Denzel Washington makes no apologies as the visionary, real-life American Gangster in director Ridley Scott's sharply riveting crime saga. And with Russell Crowe playing the ramshackle detective on Lucas' case, it's a guaranteed shot of pure heart-pumping entertainment. Full Review

  • An entertaining romp through familiar cop-and-crim cat-and-mousery, bolstered by strong star turns from Washington and Crowe. Still, it has neither the intelligence nor the grip to jump from the merely good to the truly great. Full Review

  • It takes nerve to call a film <em>American Gangster</em>: It's more than a movie title, it's the name of a venerable genre that dates to cinema's beginnings. But once you see this finely made and richly satisfying film, you understand it's the only title possible. Full Review

  • Call it the black "Scarface" or "the Harlem Godfather" or just one hell of an exciting movie, but the fact-based, 1970s-era American Gangster is already looking like a major awards contender. Full Review

  • American Gangster is a film crying out for some insight, context and humanity. What we get is a lumpen parade of set pieces – peopled by simplistic stereotypes – masquerading as the truth. It's entertaining enough, but can you imagine how good this material could have been in the hands of Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee? Exactly... Full Review

  • 1/2 Great story, an even better script and some standout performances. An authentic cinematic snapshot of an era and a scene delivered in style and to the tune of a some great 70's sounds... Full Review

  • <em>American Gangster</em> wants to be a great epic crime saga so badly you can feel it. The true story at its core -- of the rise, fall and redemption of a '70s-era Harlem drug lord -- is so terrific, it's amazing it wasn't put onscreen long ago, and it would be difficult today to find two better actors to pit against one another, as hoodlum and cop, respectively, than Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Full Review

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