Twitter Plot Summary: Crowe’s a cop, Washington’s a drug dealer. One wants to take the other down, the other wants to sell drugs. Fight!
Five Point Summary:
1. Drugs are bad, mm’kay?
2. Aren’t there rules about sleeping with your attorney?
3. Denzel Washington is apparently not a fan of Luther.
4. Drive-by shootings can apparently be telegraphed five minutes before they happen.
5. Any reference to Vietnam immediately dates a film.
Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington are on opposing sides in this story of police corruption in 1970s New York. Crowe is the clean cop Richie Roberts, one of very few on the force, investigating the dealings of Washington’s drugs dealer Frank Lucas. Of course for dramatic reasons it can never be as clear cut as this, so to add a level of personal strife Roberts is also locked in a custody battle for his son with ex-wife Laurie (Gugino). Following the established gangster movie template established by The Godfather, American Gangster provides a modern take on that template, albeit making it a 1970s period piece in the process. This is of course because it’s based on a true story, that of detective Richie Roberts who later became a defense attorney following the events depicted in this film. Ignoring the fact that certain liberties have been taken with the original story (as is common), it still remains an excellent example of how to craft an entertaining narrative.
Ridley Scott has the power to pull in an all star cast, and does so here. Many of those faces you may recognise (Josh Brolin, Armand Assante, Carla Gugino, Joe Morton rocking an awesome moustache – the list goes on) aren’t usually on screen for long, but they are all integral to the plot and the heavyweights add a level of gravitas to the story. The script is strong and keeps things moving without getting too bogged down in detail or confusing twists and turns. It also maintains a balance between the story of both characters, providing an equal amount of screen time for both sides of the criminal divide. In most other cases the focus is primarily on one side or the other, so to have this balance adds more to the narrative and lets you get into the mindset of the two opposing sides. Adding to this is Ridley Scott who provides his usual level of competence in the director’s chair, pulling riveting performances out of all involved and never losing sight of the core storyline.
Of course being a tale of drug trafficking, there’s an underlying theme of greed getting the better of you, refusing to quit while the going is good as a matter of pride, or the cliche notion that the good cop always gets his man – a bit like 1990s professional wrestler The Mountie. It is this that separates Crowe and Washington’s characters, and one that ultimately defines them. Washington’s Frank Lucas will do whatever it takes to stay out of the limelight and build his empire – bribing, stealing, killing and so on – whilst Crowe’s Roberts is incorruptible in terms of his work, yet not averse to sleeping with a vast number of women or breaking a few rules here and there if the end result means the right result is achieved.
It’s a gritty and uncompromising view of 1970s New York, and with an extended cast of compelling characters it positions itself as another essential part of Ridley Scott’s directorial works.