Academy AwardŽ winners* Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe team with director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) in this powerful, epic story. Armed with ruthless, streetwise tactics and a strict sense of honor, crime boss Frank Lu... more »cas (Washington) rules Harlem's chaotic drug underworld. When outcast cop Richie Roberts (Crowe) sets out to bring down Lucas's multimillion-dollar empire, it plunges both men into a legendary confrontation. American Gangster is "a brutal and brilliant film" (Pete Hammond, Maxim).« less
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 02/18/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This viewer rented the DVD form of AMERICAN GANGSTER, having passed it by in the theatrical run, thinking that it was yet another 'crime and corruption in New York' genre film. It was surprising to discover that this very long film (just under three hours in the Unrated version) is completely riveting and in a way far different than the usual gangster film: this story, based on real people as outlined in an article by Mark Jacobson (transformed for the screen by Steven Zaillian), and while it has its share of grisly killings, it seems more concerned with the issues of integrity in the face of police corruption as embodied in the character of Richie Roberts, the etiology of the heroin use escalation following the Vietnam War, and the presence of a 'Black Mafia' lead by one Frank Lucas. It is delivered with compelling gusto and intelligence by director Ridley Scott and has some of the best acting of the year. In other words, this is not a film to be lightly dismissed as a Hollywood retread, but instead it is a tense drama with many very fine points.
Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) follows the footsteps of his idol Bumpy (Clarence Williams III) who 'ran' the Harlem streets, and when Bumpy dies, Lucas inherits his mantle. Lucas is wise, cunning, a gentleman, a powerhouse of ideas, and quickly finds a way to bring the best uncut heroin from the Far East to the streets of New York at a price that undercuts the other mobsters' product. To establish his control he enlists his family, including his brother Huey (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and rapidly becomes the kingpin of the streets.
Simultaneously within the NYPD we meet Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) whose personal life is a mess but who, with his partner Lou (Ted Levine) discovers corruption in the NYPD and more particularly the Drug Enforcement sector of the police: Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin) works with the existing drug lords, grabs their drugs and money and then recycles both to his benefit. During a particular drug bust, Richie and Lou discover a stash of nearly a million dollars and turn the money into the police - a deed that makes the duo seem foolish and lose the respect of their fellow cops but establishes Roberts as a man who is committed to being a good detective.
From these two separate studies the film weaves the development of each character and the interaction between Roberts and Lucas we know will take place. The end result may be known to those who followed the story as it developed in the 1970s, but for those for whom this true story is new information, the resolution of the film is fast-paced, thrilling, illuminating, and just plain fine cinema. Both Washington and Crowe are in peak form, as are those in the many small roles (Ruby Dee, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Lymari Nadal, Carla Gugino, Cuba Gooding etc). This is more of a drama than an action film and while many may feel the final moments of the movie are weak, they do reveal the true ending of the story and say a lot about the narrow line between crime and criminal investigation. This is one of Ridley Scott's most successful films and one that will be around for many years as a model for the medium. Grady Harp, February 08"
American Gangster - Awesome and Tragic (Spoiler Free Review)
In American Gangster Ridley Scott has created the perfect storm of an American movie masterpiece. An amazing group of actors, headlined by Denzel Washington and Russel Crowe, produces a very convincing period piece of 1970s New Jersey and New York and the crime culture that existed there. It's hard to feel anything but shame watchig this movie. This movie is both believable and tragic, and it startles me that neither Crowe nor Washington received nominations for two incredible performances.
The Story and the Script
The story is supposed to be based on the real life exploits of Frank Lucas. Movies like this usually exaggerate. The fact that this movie is so believable makes it all the more tragic. There are no black and white characters and we are left to choose between murdering drug pushers and crooked cops.
The writing and the story structure are both excellent. The plot is developed slowly and masterfully. While there is less shooting and action than one would expect from such a tale, the movie is filled with drama and suspense.
They have managed to create a period piece here that is beautiful, gritty, real and romanticized. The framing of the actors and the skylines are beautiful. Much of the scenery and shots are darkly lit. This is most often used in the scenes with the police in their shadowy research rooms, clearly to juxtapose them against the Lucas empire, almost always shown in the light.
The first disk in the unrated edition is in a beautiful widescreen. Don't know why they list this as full-screen, perhaps because there is a full screen version available on the other side. The
Acting and Direction
I don't know whether it's award winning acting or directing that makes the end result so good, but I would be willing to guess that it's both. Denzel is steady and appears to be taking on a similar persona in his recent films. Crowe is more fantastic than even his normal performance, portraying the troubled police investigator caught between a crime ridden New York / New Jersey and the even more criminal Special Investigative Unit.
All the acting is great, and this movie could easily have won for best ensemble cast. Josh Brolin is solid in a limited though well executed part. The directing is textbook mastery.
Bottom line, this movie should have gotten nominated for best actor, best supporting actor, best direction and best picture. It probably should have one a few of those categories. Michael Clayton, Eastern Promises? Give me a break.
The nominations for art direction and for Ruby Dee as best supporting actress in a very limited role were not enough compared to the strength of this movie.
Features and Extras
The unrated extended edition has an entire disk of special features. The making-of extra is not just a featurette, it's a feature-length documentary. You get an in-depth look into every aspect of the film's creation.
There are also three in depth "case-files" on film research, script adaptation and police techniques.
The deleted scenes include an alternate opening sequence. Finally, the theatrical trailer includes writer and director feature commentary. A very nice set of extras indeed.
This is absolutely a masterful , one of the best this year. This DVD needs to be added to your collection.
Strong Acting Propels Familiar Crime Saga
Scott T. Rivers | Los Angeles, CA USA | 08/17/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There's little new in director Ridley Scott's "American Gangster." However, the emphasis on characterization over violent action is refreshing. Denzel Washington gives a compelling performance as real-life Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas, with Russell Crowe equally impressive as New Jersey detective Richie Roberts - the man determined to bring down Lucas' heroin empire. An excellent supporting cast features standout portrayals by Josh Brolin and Oscar-nominated Ruby Dee. Regardless of the predictable outcome, Scott manages to keep the pot boiling for 157 minutes. "American Gangster" does not rank with the classic crime epics, but remains a solid achievement."
So much story that the end is...
Leo Navarr | Donner Pass, California | 03/17/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I guess I didn't find the value with this film that others did. With that said, I'm glad so many others did enjoy it. I almost wonder if I was in a bad mood when I watched this film, like perhaps something was distracting me. The story, I felt, was interesting but at the same time really nothing spectacular or different. The reason I say that is because overall, the pacing of this film is what I thought was way off. After twenty minutes, I was wanting to rename it "Harlem Drug Dealer", finding the title itself really too broad. Maybe I'm used to a gangster being an image of a man in a suit spraying a 1930's model Chevy with a Tommy gun, so I'll leave the title be.
Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe are two of the best actors around today, but I almost felt like Denzel Washington was miscast for this role. From my own readings, Frank Lucas was much more sinister and prone to outbursts than the calm, often jovial portrayal Washington showed of him in the film. Of course, this isn't necessarily Washington's fault, I just almost felt like he didn't fit the role, and considering the man can play just about anything, maybe I again, was missing something.
Back to the pace and story of the film, I thought they seemed to rush the whole smuggling operation from Vietnam way too much, giving just glimpses of the idea and execution of the operation before rushing back to bust down doors in the United States. One of the most poignant parts of this story is who else was actually indicted for the crimes involved, but at the end of the film this part seemed to have neither surprise nor heavy impact. The "fast forward" part at the end of the film was at first interesting, but by the time it was over I wondered why they had even bothered. Maybe you just had to be there. More often than not, Ridley Scott films are a hit and miss with me, but if you enjoy crime dramas based on a true story, American Gangster just might be to your liking.
Drug Pushers are not hero's or brave
Michael Elliano | College Park, MD | 03/08/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"It is without a doubt a good movie. Yet I really couln't enjoy it because of the whole gangster drug king issue. People make choices and this guy hurt a lot of people. Drama yes, good acting yes, good characters yes, balanced story yes, violence yes, sex yes, great....no. There are and have been plenty of hero's in the world and this guy ain't one of them. If the average person watching this movie remembers that then worth watching. If you think the bad guys cool, grow up."