Reviewed by: Taran Gingery
Cuba Gooding Jr.
|Producer||Nicholas Pileggi, Branko Lustig, Karen Kehela-Sherwood|
“Based on a true story”
It is the late 1960s and Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) seems to be living the good life. He is polite and charming, dresses well, lives in a fine apartment in late 1960s New York, has a beautiful Puerto Rican wife, and loves and supports his large extended family. He is also, as described by Detective Ritchie Roberts (Russell Crowe), ‘the most dangerous man walking the streets of New York City.’
Frank Lucas is a heroin drug lord. He goes directly to the source of heroin, deep in the jungles of war-torn Vietnam, and smuggles shipload upon shipload of drugs into the United States, sometimes going so far as to hide it in the coffins of young soldiers. His drug empire has grown and stretched out its arms into every part of society, but like every empire throughout history, Lucas’ empire must fall and Detective Roberts is determined to be the man to bring it down.
Going into a movie with the word ‘gangster’ in the title, I hardly expected this to be a peaceful movie and it isn’t, but I didn’t find it as blood-drenched as last year’s “The Departed.” The opening scene features a man drenched in oil, lit on fire and then shot. Other scenes have people beaten, shot point-blank in the head or from a distance, with brief splatters of blood or people lying in pools of blood. A policeman slaps a woman and later shoots a dog. Obviously, drug use is central to the story and thus graphic scenes feature the preparation and injection of heroin and the fatal consequences of its abuse.
Even more disturbing is the gratuitous nudity and pervasive language. The f-word is thrown around more than 100 times, many with ‘mother’ attached to it, as well as the s-word, and various other colorful phrases. God’s name is also abused many times. As for the nudity, two or three scenes take place in clubs with bikini-clad women dancing or serving drinks, and the women who prepare the heroin for selling work fully nude so they can’t steal any, resulting in many shots of full frontal nudity. Elsewhere, Roberts and a woman have sex standing up, with graphic noises and movement, but no nudity.
Amidst all this violence, profanity and drugs, it was hard to find anyone honorable. Sure, Lucas is a family man who loves his wife and his mother very much and would protect them from harm at any cost. He is also a hard, bitter man who has no qualms about shooting a man in the head in a public square or bashing a nephew’s head against a piano for making a mistake. Frank Lucas is a man who goes to church to sing Amazing Grace with his mother one day and collects thousands of dollars in drug money the next. There is nothing honorable about him.
Ritchie Roberts is a politically uncorrupted man in a corrupt world, where the cops are not above taking bribes from drug runners and where a man is mocked for not taking for himself a million dollars found in the back of an abandoned car. He is set on bringing Lucas to justice as much as Lucas is on breaking the law. As a family man, though, he fails. He has affairs with other women and isn’t a very good father and his knows and admits this, but he doesn’t try to change. However, in spite of this and his often short temper and foul mouth, he should be noted for his loyalty, courage and sense of justice.
In spite of all this, though, I found the movie to be generally dark and without a sense of hope. A hint of redemption for any of these characters, be they cop or criminal, was simply not present. To be sure, historically and dramatically, this film is very interesting and intense and exceptionally strong performances from Washington and Crowe will probably garner attention come Oscar night, but all of that is not enough for me to recommend the often violent, frequently profane American Gangster to anyone, except discerning adult audiences.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Extreme / Sex/Nudity: Extreme
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