This Movie’s Dope

4 Oct

If it’s November, you know it’s time to bring out the big guns. And with American Gangster you get some real big ones: Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington and director Ridley Scott.

Washington stars as Harlem drug king Frank Lucas, and Crowe is Richie Roberts, the detective working to bring him down.

Don’t be expecting a two-man show, though. This one belongs totally to Washington. I’m not usually a Denzel fan, but here he’s so cool, so charismatic, such a badass, so bigger than life, that he damn near steals the movie all for himself. How appropriate.

Not that Crowe is lacking. It’s just that by comparison, Washington has the more showy role.

But yeah, don’t be expecting an acting or on-screen duel between the two actors or characters. In fact, the two don’t share the screen until the last 15 minutes or so. It’s just another way the film defies expectations and stereotypes.

American Gangster tells a true story. Lucas’ success was made possible partly because he was a black man in a white man’s gang world. Roberts takes a while to catch on to the fact that he’s not pursuing an Italian, and at one point he gets into a dispute with another federal officer (played by Roger Bart), who tells him he’s after the wrong guy because no black man has ever done something like this.

Lucas also runs his operation like a real business, going right to the source (Vietnam) to get his drugs instead of reselling what’s already on the street, and builds an empire by providing high quality “goods” at lower prices.

And Roberts himself is a Jew, a minor and otherwise insignificant detail were it not another example of how these two guys didn’t fit into their expected boxes.

But yeah, Scott has directed a big, epic (and at 2:30, epic length) gang movie. He pulls no punches and shows the grittiness of 1970s Harlem and the brutality of Lucas’ world. It’s a world that Lucas — and Washington — rules, and it’s definitely one of the best performances and better movies of the year.

I’m giving Gangster an A-.

One Response to “This Movie’s Dope”


  1. Monster Man | Martin's Musings - September 22, 2020

    […] The new Continental magazine is now on planes, and in it is my profile of Roger Bart, who you may recognize from his roles as Carmen Ghia in The Producers, George the psychotic pharmacist on Desperate Housewives, or the federal prosecutor who gets into it with Russell Crowe in American Gangster. […]

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