‘American Gangster’ is a Western tale portraying American life at its most ruthless. A two-and-a-half hour epic, ‘Gangster’ has very slow points but makes up for itself with an awesome crack-down sequence with bazookas, naked women, stacks of heroin and bullets shooting in every direction that makes for an spectacular 10-minute sequence.
Frank Lucas, played by Oscar-winner Denzel Washington, comes from North Carolina but moves to Harlem and mentored by head Black mobster Ellsworth ‘Bumpy’ Johnson until his murder. Lucas not only takes over Bumpy’s drug business, but expands it to become the most powerful empire in the country during the late 60s and early 70s.
Lucas is so successful in his drug business that he is above the Italian mafia and has connections with police officers, judges and army officials who protect him while his drug business flourished.
By following the news on the ongoing Vietnam War, Lucas discovers that many U.S. soldiers were getting their heroin from Vietnamese fields. This sparks Lucas’s massive trade with Vietnam for pure heroin that he sells on the streets for less money than his competitors. Lucas is most famous for cutting out the middle man in obtaining his drugs. The heroin is stored inside the coffins of dead U.S. soldiers coming from Vietnam.
Detective Richie Roberts, played by Russell Crowe, investigates this case. Through Roberts and Lucas’ collaboration, many crooked cops and corrupt officials are discovered and imprisoned for their connection with drug dealers and the trafficking of heroin into the United States. Lucas is sentenced to 70 years in prison but because of his assistance, he is released in 1981. Upon his release, he is charged again and returns to jail until 1991.
Washington’s portrayal of crime boss Lucas carries the entire movie and reminds viewers that Washington is made for these types of roles. From his gangster/businessman swagger, to his demeanor in ruthlessly ‘punishing’ people who piss him off for the slightest reason, Washington becomes Lucas and makes every scene he is in one worth watching.
The movie is filled with stars, including rappers the RZA, Common and T.I. Washington. Crowe, known for his work in ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Beautiful Mind,’ is good as a dedicated bad cop with a good complex.
Is ‘American Gangster’ a classic? No. The plot is not focused enough to differentiate from just another crime boss movie. Lucas’ intriguing personal story and his revolutionary business tactics do separate him from all other previous crime bosses, but unfortunately these huge contrasts are not heavily emphasized until after the half way point of the film. Due to this, the intrigue is lost within the story.
The movie is a good story of the rise and fall of a crime boss who helps destroy the lives of thousands due to heroin, but it does not have a focal point powerful enough to be considered a classic gangster film.