American Gangster is the third endeavor of the dynamic duo of director Ridley Scott, and Russell Crowe. This also marks the second occasion Crowe and Denzel Washington share the same screen since 1995's Virtuosity, a film both actors would probably rather forget. Luckily for them, and more importantly us, American Gangster is leaps and bounds greater than that previous outing, but unfortunately it's a film that has enough faults that make it only average.
When Frank Lucas's (Denzel Washington) boss and mentor, Bumpy Johnson, dies Frank takes what he learned from his years of service and expands upon it to become the number one importer of heroin in Harlem. Essentially Bumpy was an employee of a larger drug lord, Frank is an employee of no one, and by importing heroin directly from the source in Asia, he manages to turn a profit and put the competitors out of business by selling the purest heroin at the cheapest price. At first everything seems to be going Frank's way, he's got his family working for him, he's self sufficient and extremely powerful. But Frank soon starts to break his own rules by drawing attention to himself with flashy clothing and celebrity friends, this becomes the beginning of Frank's downfall.
On the other end of the spectrum is Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe). Richie becomes an outcast in the police department when he willingly brings in one million dollars of unmarked bills pulled from a stakeout. To the majority of the department, which is full of crooked cops who take bribes on a daily basis, Richie is seen a "cop-out" someone they as dirty cops can't rely on to cover their tracks. This incident leads Richie to head up a large drug sniffing operation, where he can do some good and form a team he's confident in. Their case is to find the group behind Harlem's latest drug craze the purest and cheapest heroin called "Blue Magic". Eventually Richie connects "Blue Magic" with Frank Lucas, and the task of bringing Frank's operation down begins.
The best aspect of American Gangster is easily the cast. With actors like Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington you're bound to at least get your money's worth when it comes to talent. We're all used to Denzel playing the good guy, so it seems a little odd at first to see him blowing people's brains out and losing his cool, but as the film progresses his performance is definitely convincing. But where America Gangster begins to falter is in the progression of the story and the almost non-existent screen time that Crowe and Denzel share.
While American Gangster has glitz, glamor and a massive amount of talent, it doesn't have a story that reflects it. With a run-time of two hours thirty-seven minutes (twenty minutes more for the extended cut) the story doesn't offer half as much as a film like L.A. Confidential, which is packed with multiple stories that all flawlessly connect in a package that's thirty minutes shorter. American Gangster simply has two standard angles, Crowe's character and Denzel's character and it's not until the film's waning minutes that the two ever share the screen. Ironically, it's these final ten to twenty minutes, that's truly the best. It's up to this point we're given two talented actors in two almost seemingly separate films. How much greater would American Gangster have been if Crowe and Denzel actually interact throughout the film? Could you imagine the characters of L.A. Confidential never being in the same scene until the last minutes of the film? How big a difference would that have made?
Overall, American Gangster ends up being an average outing. Talented acting simply can't make up for the film's story which while interesting, still doesn't deserve almost three hours. I've yet to watch the extended cut which adds twenty extra minutes to an already long story, but if any of you have seen it does it really added anything?