American Gangster” is an organized crime drama starring Denzel Washington, Russel Crowe, and directed by Ridley Scott. When one thinks of that it’s enough to drum up comparisons with Pacino, DeNiro, and Coppola.
Washington plays Frank Lucas, a driver and apprentice of gangster Bumpy Lewis who ran a large portion of Harlem for decades. Following Bumpy’s death, Lucas picks up the operation where his predecessor left off and transformed the business into a drug empire.
In a separate plot thread on a collision course with that of Lucas, Crow stars as Richie Roberts, an honest cop who’s condemned by his peers for their inability to trust him as they partake in the well known corruption of the day.
Roberts also has problems in his personal life as he struggles with his moral work code which contradicts his personal behavior, and has led to a divorce with his wife.
Unable to find work in his precinct, a federal agency approaches Roberts offering him the top spot in an undercover narcotics crime team, giving him complete freedom to choose who he works with.
There are dozens of characters who weave in and out of the story, but what’s most interesting is how Washington builds a phantom empire.
No one can clearly identify who the source of the drugs is, and when Lucas is discovered as a player, he isn’t considered as the man who’s running the show. Robert’s team is instead constantly searching for the man above him when there is none.Washington does a fantastic job in his portrayal of Lucas, a smooth talker who changes the drug business by cutting out the middlemen and receiving his drugs straight from Southeast Asia.
By doing so he then sells heroine twice as potent for half the price as his competitors under the ominous brand, “Blue Magic.”
It is Crowe, however, that steals the show as a true blue cop caught in a web of corruption, while trying to pass the bar exam, stop his wife from taking custody of his son, and hunt down the most mysterious drug lord ever encountered.
While there is a lot going on at one time, it never overwhelms the audience. It’s tightly wound and methodically paced; showing you a lot of different faces but keeping the entirety of it focused.
While it doesn’t quite deserve its earlier comparison to “The Godfather Part 2,” “American Gangster” is an entertaining thrill ride that never bores and keeps moving at a steady clip without the use of excessive violence to drive home its story of corruption, greed, crime, and justice.