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American Gangster - Movie Review

Recently saw this movie that I had heard about from a few people. I heard from them that it was an awesome movie. One guy told me how he compared it to movies such as Scareface, Godfather, The French Connection and other classic gangster movies. Well, let's see if it was that good. First here is the plot, then we will review it.


Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, a disciplined and intelligent black gangster, runs much of Harlem and imparts his wisdom onto his former driver turned right-hand man, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington). Johnson dies of a heart attack in 1968, at an electronics store. Frank dislikes the new, flashy gangsters and decides to take control. To gain money and power, he travels to Bangkok, Thailand, and with the help of his cousin who is an Army Senior NCO, strikes a deal with a Chinese Nationalist general in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia, who supplies him with pure heroin. Starting with a first shipment of 100 kilograms, Frank has the drugs transported back to America via military service planes. His final shipment comprises two tons hidden in the coffins of seven dead U.S. soldiers from the Vietnam war.

Meanwhile, Newark, New Jersey detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), is juggling a failing marriage, late-night law school classes, and his police career. When Richie and his partner, Javier Rivera, discover nearly $1 million in unmarked bills in a car, Richie resists temptation and turns the money in. His rare honest ways make him a hated member of his precinct, causing his partner to be exiled from the force, while Richie's rampant womanizing behavior leads his wife to seek a divorce and custody of their son. After his exiled partner dies from overdosing on Blue Magic, Richie's honesty catches him a break when his superior Captain Lou Toback (Ted Levine) puts him in charge of a newly created task force to stop drug trafficking in Essex County, New Jersey and New York City. Richie handpicks honest cops and gets to work on finding who is supplying Blue Magic.

Frank’s unique drug supply enables him to sell potent drugs (“Blue Magic” heroin) at low prices - undercutting his competition which, the film suggests, is largely heavily cut (diluted) heroin stolen and redistributed by corrupt narcotics police officers. He quickly makes a fortune and buys several nightclubs and apartments. He moves his family from North Carolina to New Jersey, where he purchases a large estate for his humble mother. His five brothers are enlisted as his lieutenants in the NYC drug trade – forming “The Country Boys,” who work together to traffic and sell dope on Harlem streets. During his rise, Frank meets and falls in love with Eva, a Puerto Rican beauty queen. Through his discipline, organization, and willingness to kill those in his way, Frank quickly rises to the top of the Harlem drug and crime scene.

As Frank's business prospers, he makes a point of operating quietly and dressing with a modest conservatism both as a sign of strength and to avoid attracting the attention of the law. However, Frank disregards this habit for his wife for one ostentatious night out, attending a Muhammad Ali boxing match with several known mobsters in a gaudy fur coat and hat, and with a ring-side seat. As it happens, Roberts is on duty observing the event and sees this unknown, but obviously wealthy, person associating with high-level criminals, as well as having better seats than the Italian mafia. Roberts becomes suspicious, and he begins to investigate this unknown (to him) figure in New York organized crime. Even as Frank realizes he has exposed himself to police scrutiny, he must make deals with the Italian mafia and fend off corrupt NYC detectives, such as Det. Trupo (Josh Brolin), who extort and threaten him. Trupo's dislike of Frank is capped when his prized Shelby Mustang is bombed before his eyes. He must also contend with local crime figure Nicky Barnes (Cuba Googing Jr.), who is taking some of Frank's product, diluting it himself, and selling it under Frank's "brand" name. Unidentified assassins try to kill Frank’s wife, further destabilizing him and worsening his unsteady marriage. Things finally turn to the worst when Frank sees the U.S. Military vacating Vietnam, which in turn cuts off his primary heroin transportation.

Richie catches another break when his men witness the driver of one of Frank’s top soldiers shooting a woman. They use the driver’s bad predicament to get him to wear a wire. The wire allows Richie and his task force to discover when a plane carrying drugs is landing. Meanwhile, Trupo leads his band of police officers to Frank's mansion where they take Frank's emergency cash supply. When the plane lands, Richie and his men follow the drugs into Newark's projects and obtain a warrant. A huge group of police and detectives attack the drug apartments en masse and a large shootout occurs. Frank is at church when the bust goes down, but he is arrested after the service ends. Frank and Richie finally meet, and Frank’s attempts to bully Richie are unsuccessful.

With no other options, Frank decides to provide names of numerous other criminals, including his and Richie’s common enemies: corrupt NYC detectives. Numerous corrupt cops are arrested; a distraught Trupo kills himself to avoid arrest. Richie, having passed the Bar Exam, prosecutes Frank, but he leaves the prosecutor's office after the Lucas trial. The first client he takes after becoming a defense attorney is Frank. Because of his cooperation, Frank receives a relatively light sentence of 15 years rather than the original 70. At the film’s end, he steps out of jail to the sounds and era of the 1990s, significantly older and out of place.


Did I think the movie was as good as I had been told? Not even close. Would I recommend someone to see this movie? Sure, why not. It is a very entertaining movie and was not really that bad. The movie is kind of long, it seemed to be almost three hours long.

I am not a big Denzel Washington fan. He may be a good actor but I just have not been to much into his movies in the past, he is just one of these actors that don't jump out at me. Seems he's always the same bad ass tough guy.

If you are someone who likes realist movies you probably won't like American Gangster. There is one scene were he is talking to his brothers in a restaurant/coffee shop and he sees a drug dealer outside that had tried to tax him in the past. He tells his brothers that he will be right back, goes outside, has a few words with the guy and then shoots him in the head in front of all kinds of witnesses and then marches right back into the restaurant/coffee shop, sits down and continues his conversation. Very unrealistic. The movie may have been wanting to prove what a tough guy he was but really, just to unrealistic.

There are those who like any movie that has to do with gangsters and drugs. If you like this, you will love this movie. They get pretty graphic with the drugs and drug use. This may be why one of the people who told me this was a great movie loved it so much. He is easily influenced when a movie glamorizes drugs, he sort of thinks it is a cool thing.

It may sound like I'm bashing American Gangster a bit but I'm not. I do think the directors and writers could have did more with the story line to make it a little better. If you want to see a decent movie, check American Gangster out. A must see, no, you could live with out seeing it. A Scareface, Godfather or French Connection? Definitely not!