American Gangster chronicles the journey of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) as he rises through the ranks from being Bumpy Johnson’s (Clarence Williams III) driver in Harlem to the undisputed King of the Dope. His greatest success was the fact that he was able to provide dope of a far superior quality at half the rate. This he achieved by importing pure stuff from Vietnam inside the coffins of fallen American soldiers of the Vietnam War. This act brought him unheard off before notoriety and reverence among the “Wise Guys”. The film also shows the life of Richie (Russell Crowe), the detective who tracks down Frank and later ends up being his defense attorney. Richie himself is shown having a tumultuous personal and professional life with Lucas being his only definitive success.
The story starts off with the death of Bumpy Johnson, Frank’s boss and Harlem disintegrating into a chaos of rivalries and who would be the boss? Frank uses the money and resources left behind by Bumpy to travel to Vietnam where he arranges to import top quality dope from Vietnam to the US. Once his dope makes way to the US, he start selling it for half the price of the competition and within month he becomes the undisputed king of the Harlem and Manhattan in the trade of Dope. The best part about his achievement remains that no one is aware of his existence. He stays below the radar and clean out of sight of the Law enforcement authorities.
Richie is an honest cop who has the history of returning a million dollars in unmarked cash and a torrid married life. His is known for his infidelities and is about to lose his child to his ex-wife in a court case. It is at this juncture that he handed the case of nailing the kingpin who is bringing dope into the city. He lands a first sight of Frank in boxing match and from there on he realizes that there may be more to this man than meets the eye. Soon he lands a few critical exposes on him and is on his way to the target. Frank who had for so long enjoyed a safe existence is suddenly threatened and launches his own counter attack.
Directed by Ridley Scott and based on the works by Steven Zaillian (screenplay) and Mark Jacobson who wrote the article “The Return of Superfly”, American Gangster is indefinitely absorbing. Right from the first scene which shows Frank executing a man, the film holds on to your attention. There isn’t a single scene which the film could have done away with. The 2 hours plus narrative successfully packs in all the possible major events from Frank’s life which makes sense and helps to unravel the secret behind his audacity and unprecedented success for his lineage. It also shows his modus operandi and the way his personal life turns out heavily influenced by the choices he made as a drug kingpin.
Richie on the other hand has an equally interesting story to tell. The film analyses his honesty towards his wok and his dishonesty towards everything else in life. While it puts an iron nail on the fact that being honest in work and dishonest in everything else doesn’t make you a good man, it also shows the extremities his goes to in order to bring down Lucas. His motive for such an action is though left unsaid extracting a varied range of possibilities. His final interactions with Frank are astounding and add meaning to the tale. Denzel Washington is astounding as Frank Lucas. His every action commands the screenplay and in many occasions he successfully transcends the line between acting and reality. His actions and mannerism will send shivers down your spine in many occasion.
Russell Crowe’s character is much more flawed and laid back but when he springs into action, he is a sight to watch. He is a suave smart talking individual who beds women just as quickly as he reaches a moral standpoint to return a huge amount of money which he could have easily run away with. Apart from these two, Josh Brolin makes impact in a cameo as a crooked cop who takes it head on with Frank. The film has a super Background score which pops up every now and then making an impact and elevating the flow of the narrative. The editing is top notch and leaves nothing to complain. Overall, American Gangster is one of the better films of Ridley Scott over the years post his epic Gladiator. The film takes a simplistic take on an interesting story and tells it well. The film maintains a constant hold on its audience thanks to its high entertainment quotient and wonderful visuals. This one is a must watch.