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american gangster
American Gangster
Directed by:
Ridley Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, T.I.

Written by:
Tony DeFrancisco

November 22, 2007



“That's the trouble with ya New York dope fiends. Ya got a rotten attitude.” – Hubert Selby, Jr., “Requiem for a Dream”

“See, ya are what ya are in this world. That's either one of two things: Either you're somebody, or you ain't nobody.” – Denzel Washington, “American Gangster”

It would be midnight tonight when I awake to the sight of Santa Claus sitting at my bedside. He would be saying to me, “Tony DeFrancisco, Hardcore Film Maniac™ and Foul Mouthed Prick, I see here that you’ve been a good boy this year. You kept up in school, managed to piss only three people off, and warned your four readers about the dangers of Dan Fogler’s uterus exploding. So for that, I offer you a gift. Tomorrow morning when you wake up, I will allow you to take a first-class ticket to Hollywood, where Cedric the Entertainer will be there starring in his next movie ‘Sweaty Fat F*@ks 9.’ There, I will get my colleague Alfred Hitchcock to drop a bottle of Mike’s Hard and a pistol from the sky and get Larry the Cable Guy to distract the red-necked guards while you f*@ked with Cedric the Fudgepacker.”

I’d be in awe, and sure, Christmas would have come early for me, but I would rather see “American Gangster” again. It’s just THAT good and I have a less chance of being caught sneaking.

Let’s check some of the facts. You have Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, two of the world’s finest character actors. You then have Ridley Scott, who can make a great movie (“Gladiator”), a mediocre one (“A Good Year”), a movie that I don’t understand the hype around it (“Alien” and “Blade Runner”), and a bad one (“Legend” and “Kingdom of Heaven”). And you have a great soundtrack and score to it… and I despise rap like Duane Chapman despises his son’s girlfriend.

I like to go to the movies to be entertained. Over the summer, a movie that everyone else got excited over but me was “The Bourne Ultimatum.” You guys were entertained by it when I sat there bored out of my mind and thinking about my lost four bucks. If you were entertained by “The Bourne Ultimatum,” you will be piss-bored out of you mind with “American Gangster.” It has the running time of more than two and a half hours and people will be bitching out of their minds and saying that this has more endings than “Return of the King.”

But good. Say that. No, just keep saying it because more than likely it is YOU that doesn’t deserve the kind of movie that Ridley, Denzel, and Russell put out in front of you on a silver goddamn plate. They PUT it out for you so you don’t complain that there are no good movies out there. You know, the good movies that they already gave to you, “Grindhouse” and “Death Sentence,” but you greedy bastards would rather pay for “Tyler Perry’s New Nightmare” and “Sam Raimi’s Testosterone and Hormoned Vampires.”

Some people just don’t deserve to watch movies…

Now, onto my review…

Denzel Washington plays Frank Lucas, a hardworking kingpin from the streets of Manhattan. Actually, he wasn’t a kingpin to start with. Frank was the driver for Bumpy Johnson, who was at that time a kingpin that was training Frank. Bumpy Johnson dies from a heart attack, and Frank takes over his empire. In an instant, Frank becomes a hit, but his trick by exporting drugs into America would be stashing them in coffins of American soldiers returning from the Vietnam War.

On the other end is Newark’s last good cop, Richie Roberts. At a drug bust, he finds almost one million dollars and TURNS IT IN, where as most cops those days would have kept it. Roberts first finds Frank Lucas when he goes to a boxing match where Lucas is there dressed up like a pimp, but Roberts doesn’t even know that he had a piece of Lucas. There is a new kind of heroin going around called Blue Magic that has Lucas’ name all over it.

This is actually more like three films put together into one giant film. The first one is the rise of Frank Lucas’ drug empire. He thinks he served his streets well and has created a drug emporium so big that now his family is involved. The second one is a parallel story of Roberts looking for Frank Lucas. The third film is yet another parallel story that deals with Roberts fighting against his wife and the corrupted New York City police department, in which Roberts forms his own task force (who clearly have no experience but a taste in fat chicks) to help track down Lucas while the NYC police department want a cut of Lucas too.

Denzel Washington’s performance is fantastic, but we shouldn’t be surprised. His performances in “Glory,” “Training Day,” “Man on Fire,” “Inside Man,” “The Hurricane,” and “Malcolm X” are just a few of some of his fantastic performances and you can throw “American Gangster” in there. For the first two-thirds of the film, we see Frank Lucas interact with his family, with his wife, and with his clients. He plays it perfectly. No complaints here.

But if the first two-thirds are owned by Denzel Washington, the last third is Russell Crowe’s floor. Actually, he pretty much owns each time he’s on-screen, but this part, he takes control of it. Like his character in “3:10 to Yuma,” his character is likeable and he approaches his character the way that he approached his characters in “Gladiator,” “Cinderella Man,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “L.A. Confidential,” and “Master and Commander.” I should also mention that while his character is on the case, he has a case of his own with his wife. In a pivotal scene in the third act, his wife, played by Carla Gugino, reminds him that no matter how truthful and honest he is when he’s a cop, he’s not honest with himself and his family.

That’s not even the exciting part. It’s the last twenty minutes when Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe finally take the floor together. Like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in “Heat,” these two people sit together to talk, and drink coffee. So what is this doing here? Ridley Scott is playing a homage to Michael Mann’s “Heat,” and there are many of these throughout the movie with films like “Scarface,” “The Godfather” trilogy, and “Wall Street.”

There is a montage where we watch drug-users experimenting with Lucas’ Blue Magic, which scared the living sh*t out of me. For those of you that don’t know, my favorite horror film is “Requiem for a Dream.” The drugs and how they impact their lives are just so scary and haunting that the images would be stuck in your head for days and days, and I’m still waiting for them to leave mine after the first watch about two years ago. That, “Things We Lost in a Fire,” and “American Gangster” are three movies that can guarantee you and I that I will never lay a finger on drugs.

“American Gangster” ends on a happy note. If this wasn’t based on a true story, Scott could have easily thrown at us a sh*tty twist that would ruin the movie, but he doesn’t. “American Gangster” is one of the best films to come out of the film industry for the past five years, and it holds the key to Ridley Scott’s best film.

Sir Ridley Scott, sign me up for “The Tell-Tale Heart.”


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