American Gangster is a movie that explores corruption and its impact on all aspects of society. As such, American Gangster shows how personal integrity and hard work are important values to live by, no matter your trade or who you are.  This is what makes the movie so gripping, and this is what most people who watch this movie do not understand. American Gangster is not an action movie. It isn’t a proponent of crime, a purveyor of violence, or provider of cheap thrills. To get something out of this movie you have to look beyond its face value. Notice the interesting way in which the protagonist is portrayed; the choices he makes for himself detract from his heroic qualities, yet the choices he makes on behalf of others define his heroic qualities. Notice how the antagonist is portrayed; the choices he makes for his own benefit make him enigmatic and engaging to the audience, yet the choices he makes for others ultimately cause his undoing. These characters are both fighting corruption with personal integrity and hard work, yet they are fighting in different directions, on different sides. This is what makes the movie so intellectually engaging and entertaining, and this is why Ridley Scott remains one of the most professional and gifted film makers in the industry. This is also why so many people will be disappointed when watching this movie; think about it!

Synopsis: Frank Lucas finds himself at the head of a Harlem crime syndicate in late 1960’s Harlem after the sudden death of his boss. After getting a feel of how the operation is run, Lucas comes to the conclusion that he is being taken advantage of by the Mafia and the mob. Lucas knows that the business of crime, is exactly that, a business, so he starts running it as one; primarily by securing a direct source for drugs so that he can run his “business” exactly how he wants without owing anything to anyone else. Once the authorities pick up on the expansion of drug activity, a narcotics team is formed, and Richie Roberts, a New Jersey cop, is picked as its head. Richie Roberts is chosen for this position because he is notoriously known for being a truthful officer, often clashing with the numerous corrupt cops. Meanwhile, as Frank Lucas gets more and more caught up in his business, he becomes more and more successful. The corrupt police force does not appreciate this and begin to threaten Lucas to give them a cut. Lucas, bent on being his own boss, refuses, and in doing so makes mistakes that Roberts and his team pick up on. Now with both the corrupt cops and the narcotics team after him, Frank is desperate; desperate for a way out….

Acting: Good (24/25)

  • Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas: Great –  Like Training Day, Washington excels at playing the bad guy.
  • Russell Crowe as Richie Roberts: Great – Again, Crowe delivers a stellar performance portraying a normal person with heart.
  • Josh Brolin as Detective Trupo: Good – Brolin continues to show his incredible range by playing the antihero figure with the intimidation and grit it requires.
  • Chewetel Ejiofor as Huey Lucas: Good – Perhaps not a memorable performance, but worthy of praise.
  • Supporting Cast: Great – Everyone feels like they belong and seem authentic in their behaviors.

Script/Plot: Okay (18/25)

  • Dialogue: Good – Dialogue drives the story, and as such it is rich and meaningful on multiple levels.
  • Script: Good – The movie is well constructed and even if it is unconventional in its storytelling, the emphasis is in all the right spots. The movie is entertaining in the way the story unfolds, more so than the actual story or characters.
  • Plot: Okay – Some people may find it boring or slow, and it is not conventional in its delivery. Ridley Scott is unique at crafting his stories with lots of details, which requires a lot of attention from the audience. However, everything in the film is important and if you aren’t paying attention, chances are you will be lost soon. Thus, those of you looking for a mindless thriller will be disappointed.
  • Themes/Messages: Great – As indicated prior, the main point of this movie is to show the impact of corruption on all aspects of society, and in that regard it is very successful.

Direction: Good (23/25)

  • Professionalism: Great – As always, Ridley Scott is a true professional. Every scene is thoughtfully arranged with equal attention paid to meaning as aesthetics.
  • Flow: Good – The film is essentially two separate stories developing in parallel before converging, and this means that a lot happens. Even if the film feels slow, it is not, and this is something that will throw many people off. It moves very fast, pulling you into both stories at the same time while they intertwine, as long as you don’t miss anything.
  • Editing: Great – The combined story is brilliantly executed, and is a novel approach. Too bad most people won’t care.

Special Effects: Good (22/25)

  • Special Effects: Great – The film is perfect in the way it captures the 70’s. The scenery in the movie, especially the venture to Vietnam is captured well, and is an interesting contrast to the concrete jungle of New York.
  • Music: Good – Represents the time well and parallels the tone, if not entirely original in its execution.
  • X-Factor: Good – The intricate framework of the movie and non-traditional portrayal of its characters is as innovative as it is thoughtfully entertaining.

The Verdict: (87/100) = B

  • What’s Good: Excellent acting, excellent directing, and an excellent storyline that is brilliantly crafted and full of meaning.
  • What’s Bad: With a lot to say, the story is a bit complicated. The movie is not driven by action, and its not one of those movies that you can miss part of and still understand what is happening.
  • In Summary: An intelligent and rewarding addition to the crime drama genre

My previous review: Rated: The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)