American Gangster (2007)
Reviewed on 2008 February 26
Very gritty film tracking the rise of Frank Lucas, a New York heroin kingpin, and the stubborn detective who brought him down. This is based on the true story of Lucas, who was taken under the wing of another real-life gangster, Ellsworth Raymond “Bumpy” Johnson (whose story is told in the movie Hoodlum).
Lucas (Denzel Washington) was loyal to his mentor, vowing to get the money owed him even after his death. He takes what he learned from Bumpy and runs with it, using connections in the Far East to bring in pure heroin. His junk is so pure that it literally turns the color of pureed Smurf when it’s tested. Lucas calls it Blue Magic and sells it by name, building a clientele and a fortune.
Lucas flies under the radar for a while, but Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is soon to become his nemesis. We know Lucas is in trouble, because Roberts is stubborn and unbelievably honest. He’s also very smart — although Lucas, who admonishes his brother for calling attention to himself with a loud suit, may be his match.
For the next 157 minutes (or 176, if you watch the unrated director’s cut), Ridley Scott takes you on a cat-and-mouse game, with lots of detours to give you insight into both men. It doesn’t move fast but it doesn’t drag either; it just takes its time and keeps you interested as it unfolds. The acting is phenomenal, and the soundtrack is even good, with lots of choice tracks from the 70s.
Three chocolate morsels. And a latté.