American Gangster (2007)

american gangster poster 2007 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Solid movie

Liberties with history

Movie Info

Movie Name:  American Gangster

Studio:  Imagine Entertainment

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  October 19, 2007 (Premiere)/November 2, 2007 (United States)

MPAA Rating:  R

american gangster frank lucas denzel washington shoots idris elba

Way to keep a low profile, Frank

When Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson (Clarence Williams III) dies, his driver Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) sees opportunity.  The war in Vietnam is raging, and the idea of an African-American running a drug empire is unheard of.  As Frank builds his empire with imported heroin from Vietnam, Detective Richard Roberts (Russell Crowe) is an aspiring lawyer who is recruited to a new Drug Enforcement Agency.  Frank’s power is growing, and Richard is facing opposition from local police on the take in addition to the drug families.  Frank and Richard are heading for a collision and no one is safe.

Directed by Ridley Scott, American Gangster is a biographical crime drama about the life of Frank Lucas.  The film is based on the 2000 New Yorker article “The Return of Superfly” by Mark Jacobson.  The film was well received and nominated for Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Supporting Actress (Ruby Dee).

american gangster richie roberts russell crowe

Accent? Well, at least they didn’t ask me to sing…no one would be that stupid!

I am not always a big fan of crime or biopic pictures, and American Gangster falls into both categories.  The movie (like many biographical pictures) takes liberties with the story, but the movie is a solid drama that still offers surprises (though rooted in history).

Movies about criminals are always tough.  They can be portrayed as noble or they can be portrayed as criminal.  American Gangster fudges the line more toward noble.  The film takes a lot of liberties (Richard’s custody hearings didn’t exist…he didn’t have a kid) and even the real Frank Lucas admitted that the story was very free with the truth.  Watching the film, you must decide if you can ignore this or if it ruins the movie for you…on American Gangster it doesn’t seem as “criminal” as movies like Darkest Hour or Braveheart where it is completely about the elevation of those involved and history is thrown out the window.

american gangster frank lucas fur coat

Shooting a man in the street = No attention…Wearing a fur coat to the Fight of the Century = Federal investigation

The cast for the movie is strong.  Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe hold the screen (though Crowe’s accent slips sometimes).  The movie has a ton of great supporting casts and is one of those movies that is loaded with “I didn’t know” or “I forgot” he/she was in it.  Ruby Dee gives one of those small but memorable performances as Frank’s mother and Josh Brolin, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ted Levine, Cuba Gooding Jr., John Hawkes, Idris Elba, Common, Clarence William III, and Norman Reedus are some of the other actors appearing.

The movie has a real French Connection feel (the French Connection is referenced in the movie) in that it is gritty and dirty.  The flashback style of the movie opens up for a lot of cool cars and isn’t as stylistically as visual as some of Scott’s other films, but it doesn’t need to be since it is oozing with ’60s and ’70s goodness.

American Gangster might not be my type of movie, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good movie.  It is loaded with strong performances from a great cast, a nice style, and an interesting story which raises questions about race and identity in America.  It might run a bit long, but it still a worthy watch.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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