5-Word 365 #025 – American Gangster

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Denzel and Scott the Younger’s Pelham 123, today it’s time for Mr Washington’s too-date only flick with Tony’s big brother, Sir Rid.

American Gangster

He becomes his defence attorney?

This movie features one man’s rise and fall in the criminal world, along with one honest cop railing against corruption and his status as a pariah, all tied into an investigation carried out by a special detail using up-to-date surveillance techniques. It’s The Wire, meets Serpico, meets Goodfellas. That’s some illustrious company, to be sure, but this isn’t without a little pedigree too. Nicholas Pileggi is an executive producer and Stringer Bell himself, Mr Idris Elba (calm down ladies) has a small role.

This is a crime story that sprawls, showing life on both sides of the law. Denzel just oozes charismatic menace as Frank Lucas but without all the histrionics of Alonzo Harris. There’s no Godzilla moment here (as it happens, I’m actually watching Training Day right now while I’m writing this). Russell Crowe plays it low-key as Jimmy McNulty Richie Roberts, the leader of the investigation against Frank. And speaking of sprawl, it takes about an hour and a half before Richie and Frank even cross paths. Ridley does an excellent job juggling the stories back and forth before they start to converge, covering a span of years in both men’s lives and careers. The only drawback of this is that the final hour could seem a bit rushed. Richie seems to get a lot of evidence on Frank and his crew off one miked up informant. In fairness, I was watching the theatrical cut. The DVD also has an extended version with an extra 18 minutes that might put a bit more meat on the police work. I’ll be checking that out soon enough.

Rule 1: don't piss off Denzel.

The flick looks gorgeous though. The late 60s/early 70s setting is pulled off without a hitch, as you’d expect from Scott. Let’s face it: the man has never been known to cut corners on the production design. The supporting cast all do good work, in particular John Hawkes as Richie’s number two in the detail and Chiwetel Ejiofor in his second movie alongside Denzel in as many years (after the criminally underseen Inside Man) as Frank’s younger brother Huey. And of course there is Josh Brolin who turns a frankly one-note character into a memorable performance, here playing the embodiment of the corrupt NYPD. He even refers to Frank as a cash-cow at one point.

Once they meet though, they get on like a house on fire.


This is an excellent piece of work, but to be honest, I think the story of Lucas and Roberts deserves more. An HBO miniseries with the same cast and crew could have blown all the doors off this thing.

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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