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American Gangster (DVD, 2009)
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I'm in Pharmaceuticals: American Gangster
Nov 11, 2007 (Updated Nov 11, 2007)
Review by George Chabot
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Story, Direction
Cons:Lengthy, but the story warrants it
The Bottom Line: A compelling character study of a '60s gangster and the cop stalking him. Great movie!
American Gangster (2007)
Recommend this product?
Ridley Scott continues to show he is the greatest director working today. Sure, he has had a few bombs but so did John Ford and John Huston; yet Scott has had some great successes, even from his very first movie Alien. There is nobody else working today who has even remotely approached the breadth of genres and storylines that Scott has turned into absolutely mesmerizing films.
American Gangster is just the latest in a long line of successes that will someday place him on the short list of the greatest of the great - those directors like Wilder, Hitchcock, Welles, Ford, and of course Huston, who have made their mark on the idiom for all time - Or at least until celluloid goes out of fashion.
If you are familiar with the history of the New York crime world, you will know that Harlem was run by Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, a black numbers kingpin who succeeded Madame Queen who was the first noted Black crime figure in America.
Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) is the driver for aging Bumpy Johnson (Clarence Williams III) who dies of a sudden heart attack, leaving a power vacuum that Washington happily fills. His predecessor, a typical racketeer, had been satisfied running a fiefdom for the NY organized crime elements but Lucas is ambitious and wants to rise above the old paradigm. He therefore goes into the heroin trade using a contact (Roger G. Smith) in Southeast Asia to get 98% pure stuff. Through a combination of hard work, family, and ruthless attention to business he soon has NY eating out of his hand; including the mob members who wouldn't otherwise give him the time of day.
Meanwhile, a related story is unwinding following the career of Richie Roberts a NYC narcotics detective played by Russell Crowe. Crowe's character is the total antithesis of crimelord Lucas, and in fact about 75% of the NYC police force because he is honest - painfully so. Crowe therefore has a difficult walk, but persists nonetheless and is awarded a special prosecutor's gig with the county DA. The movie is generally split between these two stories with Denzel continually growing stronger while Crowe marches on opposed by both sides, particularly his own, in the form of the NYC narcotics squad.
The two parties continue to work towards their ultimate confrontation with Lucas pushing his world class product and Roberts trying to find out who is the big shot behind the better quality heroin that has been flooding the streets.
If there is any flaw in the movie it is the relentless pace that hardly allows any high points to ring out. Although there are similarities to Scarface, the original gangster movie, and several old Cagney movies, Denzel Washington has the strength to take the gangster cliches and make them his own.
Besides Denzel and Russell Crowe as headliners, there is a stellar supporting cast with Josh Brolin, Ruby Dee, and familiar cop - gangster faces like Jon Polito, Ted Levine, and Roger G. Smith in the supporting roles.
The movie is presented in 1.85:1, in color and runs 157 minutes. I saw American Gangster at the Century Lakewood theater in Colorado.
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