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Ridley Scott's American Gangster is a gripping drug drama set during the seventies, based on...
Ridley Scott's American Gangster is a gripping drug drama set during the seventies, based on the real life exploits of Harlem heroin trafficker Frank Lucas. Initially and vividly described in journalist Marc Jacobson's profile for New York Magazine entitled "The Return Of Superfly", Scott's familiar crime biopic plays like Goodfellas meets The French Connection minus the famous car chase sequence.
Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) starts off working as a heavy for a local kingpin, who grooms him as his successor. Savvy and ambitious, Lucas carves out his own empire, bringing in brothers and cousins from his North Carolina hometown, and pretty soon he's clearing up to $1 million a day importing and selling dope on 116th Street. Meanwhile, honest cop Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) battles a corrupt police force and makes it his mission to bring Lucas down.
Scott has assembled almost a who's who of superb African-American actors (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr., Joe Morton) and rappers (RZA) in his sprawling yet contained drama. Denzel Washington does a fantastic job in bringing a warmth and humanity to an anti-hero prone to frightening flashes of anger, and who clearly wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty when dealing with his rivals. Director Ridley Scott keeps a firm rein on the tone of this violent story, ironically steeping it in cosy family values. Yet everything Frank Lucas did was fairly appalling, which is clear once you step away from the charm spun by Washington in the role. The legendary Ruby Dee plays Denzel's mother, and the emotional ferocity of this marvellous actress manages to catch the audience's sympathies. Russell Crowe gives a decent performance, even if the mechanics of his method acting technique are distractingly close to the surface.