Review of biopic ‘American Gangster’
By Jessica Berget, Assistant Editor
‘American Gangster’ is the perfect balance of suspense, action, drama, with a little bit of good ol’ cinematic violence.
While this movie is regarded as a classic, I feel it does not get enough recognition. With a star-studded cast, an epic tale based on true events, as well as Denzel Washington as the main lead, it’s surprising that I did not hear about it until it was recommended to me. Unfortunately, the film was released in 2007 alongside cult classic Bee Movie, so it understandably got overshadowed upon its release.
American Gangster covers the story (heavily dramatized story, that is) of Frank Lucas (played by Denzel Washington), a heroin tycoon in 1970’s New York City. Originally the right-hand man of another dealer known as “Bumpy” Johnson, Lucas takes over the heroin trade after Bumpy dies and begins buying his stock from Thailand and smuggling it through soldiers coming home from the Vietnam War. His brand of heroin known as “Blue Magic” is so cheap and pure it eventually becomes the most popular brand, putting all other heroin dealers out of business. Meanwhile, an outcast detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is tasked with taking down local drug suppliers and his big fish is none other than Frank Lucas.
It’s a thrilling saga as Roberts tries to bust Lucas on his heroin smuggling. He eventually becomes villainized by his peers as he attempts to pry open a dead soldier’s casket returning from war with suspicion that it is how heroin is being smuggled in. He of course was correct but is reprimanded by his superior for disrespecting the military by insinuating that they are part of the drug market which adds a sense of frustration and suspense for the audience watching. You also can’t help but be impressed of Lucas for thinking of such an idea and hope he doesn’t get caught.
This movie’s runtime is longer than most (about three hours), but don’t let that stop you from watching it. Some films need to be two to three hours to depict the full depth of the story (like great classic film Catch Me If You Can), and American Gangster is one of those movies. Every scene is integral to the story and none deviate from the main plot. That being said, it only gets four out of five stars in my book because I found a couple scenes to be slow or not engaging (mostly the scenes with Russell Crowe if I’m being honest—Denzel is captivating in every single scene). Fair warning: there are some shooting up scenes with needles going into arms and sometimes even back into infected areas. These clips are extremely uncomfortable to watch, but nonetheless are needed for a story about heroin dealing.
American Gangster is the perfect balance of suspense, action, drama, with a little bit of good ol’ cinematic violence. One of my favourite scenes shows Lucas walking right out of a meeting in a diner into the street to competitor dealer Tango (Idris Elba) and shoots him in the head then walks back into his meeting like nothing happened—while his associates look at him in horror. While there are some shocking scenes, the film balances them well with a little comedic relief. Another great scene is when Lucas’ cousin shoots a cop at Lucas’ party. Enraged that his business may be put in jeopardy, Lucas beats the living hell out of the guy who shot the cop and smashes his head with a piano door. The comedic relief comes when two terrified partygoers are helping Lucas clean the blood off his carpet and he snaps at their cleaning method. “Ey, ey, ey, ey! Don’t rub on that. You blot that, you understand? That’s Alpaca. That’s $25,000 alpaca! You blot that shit! You don’t rub it in. Put the club soda on there […] Simple Simon ass motherfuckers.”
Denzel Washington is downright terrifying in this movie, but you can’t help but root for his character and hope he doesn’t get caught which speaks to how well he plays the real-life character of Frank Lucas. Put this movie on the top of your to-watch list.