Ridley Scott's 2007 crime epic AMERICAN GANGSTER delivers great performances and plenty of tension as two talented actors take two very different, colliding paths on opposite sides of the law.
Denzel Washington is excellent as Frank Lucas, a loyal driver and right hand man for a lifelong gangster. When that crime kingpin and Harlem overlord dies, Frank battles for control of the drug business. Frank surrounds himself with his extended family and grows a powerful empire by thinking differently than anyone before him.
Meanwhile, detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe, terrific) finds himself nearly alone as the flawlessly honest man willing to turn in the bad guys or the good guys if they break the rules.
When he is appointed to run the new Narcotics Task Force in New Jersey, his work all begins to lead toward Lucas and his powerful family.
Director Scott (Alien, Gladiator, Blade Runner) immerses the viewer in both sides of the law, following Lucas as he decides to purchase cocaine directly from the Asian fields, traveling to the East and forging a business relationship with powerful dictators in the middle of the Vietman War. It's interesting to see how many Vietnam references Scott weaves into the film, network news coverage of the war and its politics seems to be the only thing on any television in the movie.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Rudy Dee and John Hawkes are all excellent, with Brolin oozing sleeze as the most crooked 1970's detective on screen.Watch for Ted Levine (the infamous Jame Gumb "put the lotion in the basket" from Silence of the Lambs) as Crowe's boss.
While it never quite reaches the classic status it's striving for, American Gangster is a very good film, with strong writing and powerful performances by Denzel and Russell.
Denzel oozes danger in every scene and his catch phrase "My man...." makes you cringe everytime you hear it. Frank Lucas is a very dangerous man and Washington nails it.
If it wasn't based on a true story, I would find the last half hour almost unbelievable. To say more would require a spolier alert, but life must be stranger than fiction as some of the characters you think you know suddenly choose a dramatically different direction.
Washington, Crowe and Scott are in fine form and deliver a violent, powerful crime drama that gets an A.