American Gangster --- Denzel Washington becomes the antithesis of Russell Crowe
Written: Mar 23, 2008 (Updated Mar 24, 2008)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:very interesting story, Denzel Washington is brilliant, great presentation and feel to the story
Cons:very vulgar to some
The Bottom Line: The strongest part of the film is Scott's presentation, but the acting makes this one a very interesting film, with Denzel putting in a very dark performance.
Director Ridley Scott has brought forward a gangster movie that a whole new generation of movie-goers will come to enjoy for years I am guessing. He takes some real life material, and works up a story about the drug-trade of New York City during the later 1960's and early 1970's. With drugs getting across the border from sources in Vietnam, a dealer by the name of Frank Lucas was able to "make a killing" selling his product at a cheaper rate while simultaneously providing a more potent product. This caused him to rise in success very quickly, and it became a success that would not only overwhelm him, but be the downfall for many drug enforcement officers who would succumb to bribes in order to look the other way. Seemingly an unstoppable force, Lucas was virtually running the under-world of New York City.
In a concurrent story, we see Detective Richie Roberts, who has placed himself on a very high moral ground by refusing to take bribes, and performing his job as honestly as he can. This honestly though, has put him at odds with many other people in his own department, who are worried that he would turn in cops the first chance he got. This causes him to work most cases on his own, and ultimately gets him assigned to a task force of his own to try and take down the drug trade in New York City. His story of working the streets for information, dealing with issues in his home-life, and the goal of passing the state bar exam through night courses gives us a well rounded presentation of the character. When Frank Lucas isn't center stage of the story, it is Roberts and his pursuit of the drug lords that gets the rest of the screen time.
In order to really bring home the dramatic overtones of the two characters, Ridley Scott cast Denzel Washington in the role of Lucas and Russell Crowe as the lead detective. Both were very good casting choices, and this gave Scott the chance to work with Crowe for a third time on the big screen (Gladiator, A Good Year). Washington is brilliant as the unforgiving Lucas, bringing a strong believability to the character, and sacrifices everything positive about Lucas to present just how ruthless he really was. In doing so, you get a character that is at times horrifying, and at other times unbelievably dedicated to gaining respect he seems to have been missing earlier in life. With Washington leading half the story, and Crowe's development as the cop in the other half, the story is almost two movies in one, and it shows in the close to 3-hour run time of the whole film.
American Gangster is one of those films that doesn't pull punches, and when the writers and Scott felt the need to hammer home a point through violence, they certainly did not hold back. Now it isn't as bad as some scenes in Scarface, but the point is exactly the same in the way it is presented in Gangster. It is also one of those stories where it is almost too obvious who the good guys and the bad guys are, so it took away a little of the drama underlying each story. One thing it really does succeed in providing though, is an exciting film that while at times predictable, did hold my attention to see the characters realize their own story. The other slight downfall was that the supporting characters didn't get utilized enough, and it becomes a Washington vs. Crowe battle for on-screen time. If you are a big fan of either actor, you will love the film, and it is one that I can recommend for those knowing exactly what they are getting into here. It is at times violent, always very raw, and in between all the nudity and killing, there is a strong story.
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