American Gangster: Worth the Wait!

gangsta.jpg$130,127,620 till date at the box office, two Academy nominations, three Golden Globe nominations and two SAG nominations! This movie has it all!

Ridley Scot provides cinema goers a much needed respite, with this latest blockbuster. American Gangster, for all those living under a rock, stars the incomparable Denzel Washington and the marvelous Russell Crowe.

This is no game of cat and mouse; it is certainly not an action thriller! The name of the movie might be misleading for many. For them, American Gangster may convey a vivid image of a Sicilian family with a bad Italian accent and over used punch lines.

It is a story which follows the life of Frank Lucas (Washington), from his days as Harlem’s black crime lord, from being “Bumpy” Johnson’s apprentice to being one of the most feared and influential criminals in the United States.

Frank Lucas is an ardent follower of his Mentor, Bumpy. After Bumpy dies, his area is divided into several smaller black gangs, controlling parts of New York and New Jersey. Frank works hard at building an empire from the ground up, people deny his superiority and demand cuts from every sale he makes. Meanwhile, Ritchie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is an honest cop, working hard to become a lawyer. His examples of honesty are legendary, to the extent that he is ridiculed when he returns a million dollars found in small unmarked bills to the police station as evidence. The word ‘piranha’ is thrown around very frequently while referring to Ritchie!

The story moves when, inspired by news report, Lucas decides to import 100% pure heroin from Vietnam. A true visionary, Lucas cuts out the middle man, and buys his dope directly from the source. He bribes the officials in the American army stationed at Vietnam and orders 100 kilos of Heroin as his first shipment through American military aircrafts! Lucas sells the Heroin at a lower price and its quality is better than any of his competitors’ Heroin. He calls his brand of Heroin “Blue Magic”. His philosophy was to remain as inconspicuous as possible, which enables him to stay under the radar for a long time.

He builds his empire with excellent tactics, which often entails strong-arming his opponents into submission. A very gory scene, which leaves an undying impression, is when Lucas shoots another drug lord at point blank range in the head before taking his cut from the sales.

Ritchie, on the other hand, has been handed over the reigns of a special anti narcotics force. His only aim is to destroy the drug lords and bring a semblance of order back to the streets of New Jersey. His endeavors often force you to chuckle; his penchant for attracting good looking women is hilarious. His fear of public speaking makes him a very relatable and lovable character. Beneath this benevolent exterior is a smart police brain. Spotting trends and identifying mistakes enables him to identify the hierarchy in this very dangerous neighborhood.

Ritchie’s first clue is his junkie ex-partner being found with a Blue Magic packet in his pocket. Richardson and his chosen men climb the ladder of the treacherous world of drug abuse and distribution and uncover a disturbing secret which rocks the highest level of society.

The story is brilliant in its simplicity. The director has kept to the life of Lucas and has barely taken any liberties. The movie could have done away with the length; the first half is painfully long but the pace in the second half leaves you feeling very often breathless!

The most memorable scene in the entire movie has to be the speech given by Lucas to Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding Jr.) about trademark infringement and brand names. The scene is hilarious and oddly terrifying at the same time. The movie gives an interesting insight into the mind of the American people on issues about African-Americans and progress. It is also a painful display of exploitation and corruption. In the end, the viewer leaves with a pride at having witnessed one of the more inspired pieces of cinema!

Denzel Washington has played the role of the cold, calculating and the smartest business mind to the hilt. Russell Crowe who leaves his off-screen persona of a hot tempered actor behind and plays the role of Ritchie like no one ever could!

The very familiar crime story has a unique freshness to it. Ridley Scott has delivered another un-biased classic, which will stand the test of time. This movie might not be The Godfather but it is right up there with De Palma’s Scarface and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

Recommendation from me, watch the movie and don’t forget to buy the DVD!

Patanjali Pahwa

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