“An outcast New York City cop is charged with bringing down Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas, whose real life inspired this partly biographical film.”

Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Steven Zaillian, Mark Jacobson
Staring: Denzel Washington, Russell Crower, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin
Release Date: November 7, 2007

According to my movie list, I had seen American Gangster (2007) before. After rewataching it, I can admit that I barely remembered everything from the first time I saw it. It was essentially a brand new experience. Always feels good to watch something from fresh eyes.

American Gangster follows the story of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washinton), a man who came from nothing in Harlem, NY and emerged to become one of the most prominent figures in the New York criminal underworld. He learned under his predecessor what playbook to follow to garner the public’s optimistic perspective of him.

While Lucas was is being a morally good mob leader, the cops are beginning to sniff around his honeypot. Drugs. I am talking about drugs. Frank has marked himself as one of the prominent heroin importers in the market, and the reason he kills it is because he is bringing in his product directly from Bangkok. The man of the law in charge of looking into the New York drug scene is Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe). While working on opposite sides of the line of crime, Lucas and Roberts both have to deal with corrupt public officials, most notably Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin).

So who is right? The mob boss who garners tons of good will and performs philanthropic quests with dirty heroin money. The cop who is leading the charge against guns who also failed as a father due to being over-dedicated to his work? Or the cop who takes money wherever he can and just rides the system that he grew up in?

Okay, well probably not number three, but you get the point.

The story of Frank Lucas is interesting and propulsive, and director Ridley Scott takes cues from the Mark Jacobson story and makes American Gangster‘s pace frantic. The first hour of American Gangster will leave you with questions, most of which will be answered. When Richie and Freddie Spearman (John Hawkes) find the money in the back of the trunk, the story hits the nitro and pins Richie up against the wall. For Lucas’ story, we get emotionally invested when he shoots a fellow drug dealer on the street in front of his family. The way the story jogs through without stopping to breath is reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s Savages (2012); American Gangster it does the craziness better.

Nobody tuned Lucas in for his crime of murdering someone on the street, therefore highlighting one of his more profound quotes from the movie: “I got Harlem. I took care of Harlem, so Harlem’s gonna take care of me.” You know who takes care of the audience? Denzel Washington. The man does not miss. It is impossible not to say “My Man” after watching American Gangster. Denzel oozes the calm collectiveness and confidence needed to pull off Lucas man-in-hiding leadership style. Lucas is a man of little words. As he says: “The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.”

Russel Crowe is bringing a longer-haired maniac side out with Richie Roberts. The honest leader o the narcotics task force plays second fiddle to Lucas over the course of the movie. Let’s be real; a compelling villain you are rooting for is going to get more screen time than a flawed good guy perfectionist. Crowe does his part well acting as the flashlight illuminating the audience to the corruption that is both aiding thwarting Lucas.

The two characters do not have a lot of face time in the movie, but there are brushes throughout the story where each brushes the other’s air space. Invisible strings are connecting them and it is a race to see if Lucas can cut the binds or if Richie can shine a line of the threads of evidence.

Alright, spoilers here.

Personally speaking, was not a fan of the ending. It stretched on too long. When Richie is waiting outside of church for Lucas, that is good. Richie does not make a massive scene. He keeps it calm and filled with respect…just like how Lucas is. Ok, so what did I not like? I did not need to see the two of them working together. It could have ended with just them outside the church. Or it could have ended after the interrogation scene. But the collaboration sequence was over-the-top. It is crazy because you are rooting for the bad guy, and to see him work with the good guys feels like a twist of the knife. Now this raises the question as to whether or not you deem Lucas good or bad, which is a theme of the movie. But the final moments of American Gangster feel rushed, like a sprint to the finish. Ridley Scott was making a movie like it was a 5K sprint. You are running as fast as you can for s short distance, and then you turn off the after burners with the finish line in sight. Works for a race, but doesn’t work in American Gangster.

American Gangster was nominated for two Oscars: Ruby Dee for Best Supporting Actress and Best Art Direction. Going to be honest with you. I don’t think that Dee was worthy of award consideration. Tilda Swinton won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her efforts in Michael Clayton (2007), and that is whole heartedly deserved. Amy Ryan was nominated for Gone Girl (2007), along with Cate Blanchett for I’m Not There (2007), and Saoirse Ronan for her first of four nominations for her part in Atonement (2007).

American Gangster is streaming on Peacock. I strongly consider checking it out. You get Washington being cool as hell, Crowe playing his part well, a good blend of action and drama. Also a crap tone of faces that you will recognize: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Ted Levine, Cuba Gooding Jr., Common, and Idris Elba.

American Gangster is good. Watch it.

STANKO RATING: B+ (4.0/5 Stars)


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