“This is my home. My country. Frank Lucas don’t run from nobody. This is America.”
– Frank Lucas
Harlem gangster Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson (Clarence Williams III) dies of a heart attack, leaving his new right hand man, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), in a precarious position. He is not impressed with the gangsters that are trying to take over after Bumpy’s demise, and is battling to figure out how he is to regain control over all that is going down. Eventually he has the idea to buy heroin directly from the suppliers in Thailand, product that is virtually one hundred percent pure and sells it at half the price of the competitors. He has the drugs smuggled in by military planes and the assistance of military personnel. This leads to him becoming vastly rich in an incredibly short period of time and gaining the monopoly over Harlem.
Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) and his partner Detective Javier Rivera (John Ortiz) are in the dog box when they perform a bust and turn almost a million dollars in to evidence. Honesty has them reviled and they are on the end of the wrong stick. Richie is already in the middle of a messy divorce as well as attempting to put himself through night school. His partner gets hooked on drugs and Richie gets pulled in to try and cover it up. Rivera dies and Richie discovers “Blue Magic” heroin on him, and starts to ask questions. Richie gets asked to head up a drug trafficking task force by Captain Lou Toback (Ted Levin) to work specifically on taking down actual suppliers as opposed to the middle-men.
Lucas is making a fortune off of his blue magic and soon moves his entire family up to stay with him, makes his five brothers his lieutenants, buys nightclubs to control other seedy industries and is doing well for himself. At one of his clubs he meets his future wife, Eva (Lymari Nadal), a luscious Puerto Rican beauty queen. Lucas rapidly becomes one of the biggest gangsters and dealers that Harlem has ever seen. Aside from being ruthless, Lucas is smart and low-key, thinking that it is unnecessary to draw more attention to himself than is necessary. However, one night out at the fights in a garish outfit that his wife chose for him makes him stick out to Richie, who wonders how he is better seated than the Italian Mafia. Richie decides to investigate him.
Lucas is dealing with his own problems dealing with encroaching rivals such as Lucchese mafia and local crime lords as well as corrupt cops such as Nick Trupo (Josh Brolin). Lucas needs to protect his empire, though this becomes tricky with the Fall of Saigon – his supplier has been lost. Lucas is looking for alternate ways to make things work while retain his authority, while at the same time Richie Roberts is hot at his heels and relentless. Will Richie be able to bust the notorious gangster? Will Lucas be able to maintain his hold over Harlem?
I score American Gangster an 8/10. This film was really excellent, and I enjoyed all of it. I know that it was loosely based on the actual historical events, but it was entertaining nonetheless. I watched an extended edition, and each and every second was well worth it. The cast was great, everyone bringing their everything to the table. I thought that the story was incredibly well executed, and the costume designer also needs congratulations, everything looked authentic for the time. I found Frank to be enigmatic, ruthless, cruel and a stand up man all at once, which could leave one rather confused at the best of times. Denzel Washington gave Frank life on screen and again reminded me why I have such respect for him as an actor. Russell Crowe also delivered another good performance. The way the film progressed was fluid, too, which is nice, no parts where you are wondering how the hell you landed up there. I must admit I laughed so much when Richie threw that subpoena/warrant through the door then had it broken down with a sledgehammer. Well done! The dialogue was also lovely to listen to, and the story that was told was incredibly good, and interesting all the way through almost three hours of movie time. I would highly recommend this film if you have not seen it, it just works.