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American Gangster (2007) R 157min

November 4th, 2007 by Maxim · 6 Comments · 9,361 Views


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Universal Pictures’ American GangsterThis new classic in the gangster genre was directed by legendary director and producer Ridley Scott (also directed Kingdom of Heaven, Black Hawk Down, Hannibal, Gladiator, Blade Runner and more). 

Denzel Washington plays Manhattan drug-king-pin-turned-informer Frank Lucas, who was a driver, bodyguard and confidant of one of the Harlem’s crime bosses, and replaced him after boss died in the late 60s. Frank Lucas came up with a novel way to import and distribute heroin. His business genius was cutting out the middle men, going direct to cocaine and heroin producers, thus getting a best-quality product at the price twice lower then competition. He even trade-marked his product: “Blue Magic”. He bribed U.S. military to deliver his cargo from Bangkok, and as the Vietnam war was over he once again came up with a brilliant solution to delivery problem: using coffins of U.S. servicemen. 3/4 of NY cops were on the take. During the war U.S. army was plagued by heroin addiction; because of the draft a large number of servicemen were black and poor, so after the war they were the major clientele of Frank Lucas. Apart from being a gangster and ruthless thug and all the murders he committed without any remorse, he was really devoted to his family.Denzel Washington and Ruby Dee in Universal Pictures’ American Gangster

Russel Crowe plays a NYPD officer Richie Roberts. Just like in Insider, Crowe seems to be at his best playing characters under huge stress: his wife is leaving him and he’s struggling for the child custody, and all the crooked cops in NYPD hate him for being honest. After the government decided to pay attention to the drug problem, his character, who is not a composite but is based on a a real person, is assigned to a new police unit to go after the drug dealers. After a long investigation complicated with police corruption he focuses on Frank Lucas. Both men have something in common: each one are religiously following their ethical code, but on opposite sides of the law. Both men are outcasts: one because he’s honest, another because he represents innovation and departure from the “old ways” of doing business. Both are trying to eradicate corruption: in police and in the mob.

All performances were really strong, from main characters to every last supporting actor. Denzel Washington and Ruby Dee ought to be nominated. Each side story adds new dimensions to the picture and characters. Hundreds of old cars, music and costumes were used to recreate the atmosphere of the late 60s and early 70s. Gotta be sentimental about those black and white TV sets and microwave ovens. Very entertaining film despite 2 hours 40 minutes run time – it will be a while before I’d want to see it again on DVD because of the length, unless you are waiting out a winter storm. The atmosphere was not quite right – I expected something darker like other classics in the genre: Godfather or Good Fellas, and the action to be more like Road To Perdition. Soundtrack was awesome – should get the CD.

Ridley Scott also produced The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (among many others including ones mentioned above) which I recently reviewed.

BET currently runs a documentary special on Wednesdays, also called American Gangster, about Frank Lucas and others. It’s pretty good if you can wait through infinite commercial breaks. DVD is already available.

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Tags: Biographical · Crime/Gangster · Drama · Movies · Thrillers/Suspense

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tom // Nov 4, 2007 at 5:33 pm

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    I’m interested in checking this movie out, what’s your verdict, theatre or rental? You should use a point/star rating system. You seem to like all the movies you review. Time to bring out your hammer and sickle and start being more critical:)

  • 2 Maxim // Nov 4, 2007 at 10:50 pm

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    The reason I like most movies I see is because I don’t order unpopular movies on Netflix and I see only 1-3 movies in theatres a week – so if I go to the theatre I’d see something I think I might enjoy. That excludes movies about weddings and princesses that my wife loves.
    As far as American Gangster goes, here’s the thing. This is not a special effects movie where you need big sound effects and huge screen. You can also go to the theatre to experience it in a large audience, but as I remember most “ooohs” and “aaahs” were during few seconds when fact-sheets were displayed, not when people saw the act. That being said, some moments in the movie were quite gripping and tense, so a very quiet audience when you can hear a pid drop is a good thing. Seeing this movie with a theatre audience would be a benefit though.

  • 3 Review: A Good Year (2006) PG-13 114min | Maxim's Movie Reviews and Opinions Blog // Dec 7, 2007 at 1:50 am

    [...] director Ridley Scott (American Gangster, Numb3rs, Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Company, Tristan and Isolde, [...]

  • 4 Idetrorce // Dec 15, 2007 at 4:11 am

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    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  • 5 patrick // Mar 5, 2008 at 1:40 pm

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    American Gangster reminds me yet again what a versatile actor Russel Crowe is… plus Ridley Scott deftly leads us into loving the bad guy and disliking the good guy only to flip that around by the end of the movie… very clever.

  • 6 Reginald Williams // Mar 12, 2008 at 8:08 am

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    The first scene for American Gangster really sets the tone for the rest of the film. Great flick. The extended edition out on DVD adds unnecessary scenes in my opinion.

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