American Gangster

Rated 4.0

American Gangster is epic. The characters—Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) in particular—are larger than life. The scenes, set in the late ’60s-early ’70s, are vibrant and full of energy. And the story, well, the story is huge (and long, with the running time clocking in at 2 hours 37 minutes). The big man in Harlem, Lucas sells the purest heroin, and cheap. So pure and so cheap, in fact, that he single-handedly takes over the smack trade in New York City. Meanwhile, Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), an honest cop, heads up a drug-enforcement team charged with taking down the big dealers in a city filled with corrupt officers. The interesting thing here is that Frank and Richie don’t cross paths until almost two hours into the film. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian has even said he wrote two different scripts, one from the point of view of Frank Lucas and the other from Richie Roberts’ side, and then fused them—beautifully. Not that Ridley Scott’s film is beautiful. It’s not. It’s brutal, and gritty at times—there are a number of shooting and shooting-up scenes. But it’s all part of the ambiance, which is sometimes less than glamorous.