I went to see “American Gangster” recently even though it looked an awful lot like some movies I’ve already seen before, I think they were called “The Godfather”, “Good Fellas” “The Departed”, “The Untouchables”… (smirk)
Y’all see what I just did right there? For all you new-comers here, you see sometimes I like to throw some jokes in the beginning to spice things up a bit. I’m like the Emeril of words. BAM!
Anyway, back to the review, I can sum it up for ya in two words: Black Scarface.
You know, just because something is based on a true story, doesn't necessarily make it unique or any less predictable. I mean c’mon do we really need yet another film about drug dealers?
Not especially, and definitely not one that takes 157 minutes to get where it's going.
The storyline? Okay keeping it real simple here: Denzel Washington plays Frank Lucas, who was the biggest drug dealer crime boss in Harlem in the 60s. He dominated the drug trade and flooded the streets with a purer form of heroine sold at a better price, at one point he was making close to a million dollars a day. He was able to operate under police radar for years and years because they couldn't believe a black man had built such a huge underworld empire.
On the other side of the law is Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe). Richie Roberts is a rare thing in the 1970’s NYPD – he is an honest cop. How honest was he? He’s such the good honest cop, he even turned in a million dollars that he found which didn’t go over so well with his fellow cops. What the hell kind of a thing is that to do!! Unfortunately, Richie Roberts is really rather boring and the parts showing his story aren't nearly as interesting. It just didn't bring the heat!
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It’s the story of two men on opposite sides of the law. Ironically, this is really not your typically cat and mouse, cops and robbers type of movie. In fact, Frank and Richie don’t even know that the other exists until 80 minutes into the film!
Except for some shocking violent scenes every so often, Lucas is kind of white bread! Denzel Washington as a gangster just doesn't transform -he never releases his inner thug.
And although we learn a lot about Frank and Richie, we never get inside their heads. That’s not to say the story is bad or anything it’s that there's just no oomph factor.
In fact, I didn’t really feel connection for any of the characters. The film is 2 hours and 40 minutes long, and the setup, run up, or whatever-up you want to call the first two hours is mostly a drag.
It’s weird, I have complained in the past about movies that don’t give you the chance to get to know the character but this one actually suffers from too much of it.
"American Gangster" wants us to walk out of the theater thinking that this wasn't a film about heroin per se, but more about business. And I must admit besides the detail that he was a heroin dealer, Frank Lucas' career would be an ideal case study for business school. But I guess “American Entrepreneur” didn’t have enough oomph.
Did you catch the irony of both characters? Don’t ya get it? Both men’s professional and personal lives are flipped. Frank may do dishonest things for a living, but his personal life is filled with love, honesty, and a close knit family. Richie is a painfully honest cop, but his personal life is filled with lies, failed relationships, and insecurities.
Even though it attempts to give equal time to both characters this movie is really, truly the tale of Frank Lucas (after all it’s not called “American Narcotics Detective” lack of that oomph factor again!)
In the end, “American Gangster” wasn’t all that great and frankly it was kinda dull, Frank Lucas seems to have been a fascinating person, it would have been nice to see a great fascinating movie about him.(That's the real Frank Lucas- last pic. off to the right.)
“American Gangster” doesn't quite live up to its title. Yes, it's about a gangster, and yes, he's American, but it doesn’t tell a great American story. In fact, this movie is loaded with every gangster cliché known to man, just whip out your classic gangster film DVD's and save a few bucks, Budda bing!
-The real Richie Roberts and Frank Lucas were major consultants to director Ridley Scott on the set of this film.
-Russell Crowe requested tape recordings of Richie Roberts speaking in order to match his voice mannerisms accurately.
-When this project was canceled by Universal, Denzel Washington received his salary nonetheless. A pay-or-play deal was stipulated in his contract that Universal would pay Washington $20 million regardless of whether the film was made or not. Once this project was green-lit by Universal a second time, under the direction of Ridley Scott, Washington returned to the project without an upfront fee. He also received half of his $20 million salary for Inside Man (2006), another Imagine Entertainment production.
- Brad Pitt was director Ridley Scott and producer Brian Grazer's first choice to play Richie Roberts. Crowe was ultimately cast in the role.