Strong Performances in "American Gangster" PDF Print E-mail
By Gregory Brand Jr. - Black College Wire   

Critically acclaimed director Ridley Scott's newest gangster opus, "American Gangster," combines amazing visuals and a gripping real world true story to deliver a richly detailed account of one of America's most profitable drug traffickers.

Denzel Washington

"American Gangster" follows the rise and ultimate fall of New York area drug kingpin Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and the police officials, headed by Richie Roberts, (Russell Crowe) who want to end the unchallenged multi-million dollar drug distribution Lucas enjoys.

The film opens as Harlem drug icon Bumpy Johnson succumbs to a heart attack in an electronics store. The only person at his side as he passes is his trusted friend and driver, Frank Lucas. After Johnson dies, Harlem falls into a stream of crime without a boss running the borough's organized crime.

Lucas then hatches the brilliant scheme of taking over the market himself. While watching a news broadcast he notices that drugs are coming to power in Vietnam and he can acquire it directly from the source by getting it there. With the aid of his military serving cousin, he travels there and purchases hundreds of kilos.

With the product and his knowledge, Lucas begins a meteoric drug supplying rise in all of New York as he outsells his competition with a cheaper and more pure product. Lucas makes millions using the blueprint he was able to learn under Bumpy Johnson.

Russell Crowe

As he gains more wealth, power and eventually a beautiful wife, (Lymari Nadal) Lucas is spotted by struggling policeman, Richie Roberts, looking to actually do his job.

Suddenly, a man who was able to stay out of the scope of investigators becomes public enemy number one; a position that will ultimately mean his doom.

For a gangster film, this movie takes a vastly different approach from previous offerings in the slightly over-ripe genre. It focuses on integrating strong visual components with an interesting story. While the film is based on a true story, getting to the inevitable ending is never a bore.

Excellent attention is also paid to confronting the racial issues surrounding dealing drugs. With crooked cops and innuendo-driven confrontations at every turn, this film forces views to see the unglamorous side to Lucas's life of crime.

The film also delivers several strong performances from nearly the entire cast. The cast is a nice mix of veteran actors, new faces and even well versed hip-hop icons. Washington delivers as Lucas while Crow does well in his own right.

The film also shines in the small rolls as well. The RZA, Ruby Dee, T.I, Common, Idris Elba and Chiwetel Ejiofor are all ravishing in their respective supporting rolls.

The problems with "American Gangster" show themselves in the second half of the film. A film that starts off as a gorgeous crime drama with sweeping visuals and an airtight story suddenly transforms into a choppy mess. Ultimately, the editing seems to be the culprit behind the mishap. The film attempts to include too many elements by the end of the film and they hurt the end product.

When the film gets close to the end, the once airtight story starts to wear away.

The ending takes an interesting approach to historical fact and some may find it a little too clean cut to be the whole truth. Bottom Line: "American Gangster" is interesting and well put-together, a must-see for fans of star-studded crime dramas. It just loses a little steam as it progresses. Grade: B.

Reviews represent the opinions of the individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Black College Wire.

Gregory Brand, a graduate student at Tennessee State University, writes for The Meter. To comment, please e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Posted Nov. 09, 2007
< Prev   Next >