“This is America!” Three famous words as cited by Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) in the bio-pic American Gangster . As an old gangster historian and student to organized crime, it would not be fair for me to say my anticipation for this movie was one of excitement. No it is needless to say that I […]
“This is America!”
Three famous words as cited by Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) in the bio-pic American Gangster . As an old gangster historian and student to organized crime, it would not be fair for me to say my anticipation for this movie was one of excitement. No it is needless to say that I expected the same crap Hollywood typically does in taking names and likenesses of history’s phenomenons and rewriting the tales in a way that makes historians cringe. You get things like out-of-place technology… things that aren’t supposed to be invented till after the events, etc. etc. So what impression did I just have after leaving the theater?
Bravo Ridley Scott! The genius behind Gladiator and Black Hawk Down has knocked it out of the park again. The tale of good versus evil in heroin infested Harlem is so close to the things that I have read, that I was impressed to see that the writers didn’t change much about it. The story is such: Frank Lucas, a retainer to the Harlem Gangster Elsworth “Bumpy” Johnson (The same character portrayed on Hoodlum by Lawrence Fishburn) takes over his master’s position upon his death of natural causes. In order to take over the streets of a chaotic city like Harlem, Lucas needed an angle, and he found it in the delivery of pure Heroin from Vietnam in an unprecedented movement of cutting out the middle man. Bypassing the Italian Mafia and the corrupt Police Department, Frank sets himself up as supreme Heroin Drug Lord and moves his family up from North Carolina into his business. Investigating Frank Lucas is Detective Richie Roberts, a very human character with a strong sense of duty and an almost fanatical wont to follow the law. The two of course bump heads until a finale which is not only realistic but actually a breath of fresh air from the all typical “fall of the crime lord” endings that I have seen.
The character acting is brilliant, Russell Crowe is charismatic and dynamic as Richie, while Denzel Washington showed a grasp of character that has made his career legendary to this day. He portrayed Frank Lucas and his intensity and volatile nature had the audience as mesmerized and shaken by his personality as his subordinates may have felt. You get no feeling of remorse on his down times nor did you celebrate his success… watching American Gangster felt like peeking out of a 2-way mirror at the life of a dangerous and driven man and the successful portrayal of this was evident. There were many Hip-Hop cameos, but non so overbearing as to jeopardize the movie’s quality. Names such as RZA, T.I., Fab Five Freddy and Cuba Gooding Jr, (Whose career had gone from hopeful to clown till now) were present. Cuba, playing the flamboyant Heroine pusher Nicky Barnes, was well chosen. He looked like Nicky and brought across the quirkiness of his nature convincingly. Other critics will argue that showing the scenes of Joe Louis’s affection for Frank Lucas and the few scenes with the Italians may have been unnecessary but if you know the real history, you know that those parts were important to authenticate the film.
An excellent, excellent movie. Superb acting, awesome cinematography, appropriate soundtrack and an accurately written story scores this film a 9.5 in my book. If you are waiting to see this on DvD, do not rent it, buy it. Two academy award winning actors and a brilliant director is the right seasoning for this Gang-land dish, and surprisingly only ONE N-Bomb was dropped! Woot! Go see it.