Overall Grade: (A)
A classic performance from Washington as the motivated driver turned crime-boss who rose to power with an entire community that loved him.
The rise of Frank Lucas from a driver and bodyguard, to a crime-boss that surpassed the power of the mafia in the late 60’s by getting his product from Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and cutting out the middle men.
Before getting into the details of what my thoughts on this film are I would like to pass on a little technique I have for watching films with run-time’s hovering around the three-hour range. Before I start I already plan on watching it in roughly three sessions to break it up. I have learned that this will eliminate the possibility of missing out on a great film due to thinking I do not have the time to see it. With that in mind before going in, I hit the ‘play’ button and told myself that if the story-line captured me then how long I watched would depend on that.
“American Gangster” turned out to be a compelling single sitting watch as I took in the life of Frank Lucas through the cinematic eye of talented director Ridley Scott. Denzel Washington was excellent in the lead and his delivery was prefect, almost too much as the film seemed to portray him as a good guy, despite the horrible actions he was committing. Some of this could be accounted to Washington’s unmistakable charm and the rest of why his character was conveyed as a hero was because this was how his community viewed him, at least this is what I took from the view the story took on.
The three-hour length was excessive but to the filmmakers credit, other then some useless development of Russell Crowe’s character, the bulk of the script was used to capture the life of Frank Lucas from the rise of his empire to the inevitable crumbling of it with a detailed eye. The rest of the cast surrounding Washington was also top tier which made for a collection of great side characters and strong performances all around. There was not much of this film that did not feel and look realistic to the true events, and the era they happened in. Crowe and Washington although with little screen time together do deliver some fun chemistry in their interactions.
The business model of Lucas heading to Southeast Asia to get his supply to cut out the middle man was genius and something that could have only been accomplished during the time of the war, and as the film progressed I was waiting for how the script would approach what Lucas would do once the soldiers were discharged and returned home.
To my enjoyment the third-act did a great job of closing out the several year long run Lucas had, the both good and bad impact he had on peoples lives as well as his family surrounding him and how easily one mistake could cause everything to fall apart. The strength in this films script was the captivating writing that was detailed enough to make you feel like you were truly getting to know who Lucas was.
One of the faults of this film to me was that despite the great performance from Crowe, a lesser headlining star could have easily filled the role which could have kept the theme from focusing off of main plot. To explain, Crowe is a big name and with his presence in the movie there comes a certain allotment of screen-time he must get. Most of which was spent over-explaining the fact he was basically a bad father and a womanizer.
This could have easily been conveyed in only a scene or two and through some dialogue rather than much too much time being spent on a useless subplot between he and his wife played by Carla Gugino. There scenes were not bad and both provided the film with strong performances, but in the end their subplot was useless to the closing of the story and just sucked up time.
Regardless “American Gangster” is still a captivating tale of a clever man who was opportunistic, and determined, something that was perfectly conveyed through Denzel Washington. The detail in the film was spot on and the soundtrack was also a great addition to help capture the time period.
“American Gangster” is one of the better crime saga’s out there. The scope of the story-line is ambitious but so was the character the film is based on and the time spent watching this one will be long, but worth it to see the great performances of a very large cast of skilled actors and actresses that pull you into the era and the empire of Frank Lucas.