Movie Mind Says:  Rent It

If You Like This You Should Watch:  Blow, New Jack City
Better Than:  King of New York, Miami Vice
Worse Than:  Training Day, Carlito’s Way

American Gangster

Starring: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Josh Brolin

Good thing this was based on a true story. Otherwise there would have been too many holes in the story to hold up on its own as a tale of fiction.

There are a lot of things we know are going to work in American Gangster, regardless of how the story plays out. It is a very intriguing real-life story and the audience is going to get nothing less than solid acting performances from the whole cast. While it was an entertaining gangster/organized crime/drug movie, it still left a lot to be desired. Maybe they should have taken some of the “extras” from the entire second disk on the DVD and incorporated that into the film. Better yet, just watch that disk first if you want to see more of the “real” story which is what would have made this film better than the rest in the first place. 

Denzel plays Frank Lucas, the longtime driver and protégé to the New York City drug dealing kingpin Bumpy Johnson. When Bumpy kicks it, there is a huge void in the drug dealing game. Waiting in the wings are a couple of mid-level players trying to seize the opportunity, but Lucas does much more to take a stronghold. He uses brute force and brings in the only people he can trust to have his back: his family. When he imports all of his family (brothers, mother, cousins, and nephews) from the southern back-country it becomes clear who has taken over as the new “chairman of the board”.

Lucas applies many principles that silver-spoon fed yuppies would have paid a quarter-million dollars to learn at Harvard Business School. In Consumer Behavior 101 he is able to find a product that is very much desired by his target audience. The heroin he pedals should maintain a steady and loyal consumer base for quite some time. In his version of Research & Development he seeks out and finds a superior product to that of his competition. By utilizing the Principles of Logistics coursework he works out a way to bring that product in from the far reaches of where it is produced. I guess the concept of overseas labor was alive and well in the 70’s too. Then by integrating some fancy Financial Modeling he works out a way to deliver this superior product to the consumer for a cheaper cost than the lower purity- ahem, quality, competition. Last but not least the Marketing & Advertising experience helped him brand the product and create a groundswell amongst the consumers. After all, a happy customer is better than any catchy advertisement…even if the consumers will kill and steal just to get another piece of your product.

While the business-like approach taken by Lucas is an interesting and refreshive perspective on the gangster-style film, the problem(s) in the storyline manifest themselves every step along the way. First and foremost, we have no clue how Lucas manages to bring all of these aggressive endeavors to fruition. We get no explanation or description of the sales training he undergoes in order to convince the Chinese General to entrust that amount of product to him. Not to mention hoe Lucas manages to find him the general in the first place. Maybe I am asking for a free education here, but there has to be more detail on how an “administrative assistant” decided to jump the ladder and move directly to CEO. We are shown how he deals with Mafia by acting as the wholesaler to their national conglomerate, but how does one guy from Harlem manage to fend his way through a war-torn jungle and become the largest importer in the business?  

On the other side of the equation is Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) who may as well have been a classmate of Lucas’, only he went the route of a business ethics degree. Roberts shuns “the norm” of rampant corruption amongst the police force in order to actually enforce the goal of the newly formed narcotics division. While the film tries to claim that the only reason Frank Lucas got noticed was because he happened to be too “flashy” one night, we can see that it was only a matter of time before Roberts was on his scent. The writers spend a lot of time developing a storyline about Roberts’ childhood pal who acts as a mafia lieutenant to the same guy he is aiming to bust. The problem is that it’s a waste of time because they leave us high and dry in the end.

While most of the time there was a much harder fight for Roberts against his so-called peers in law enforcement, he managed to grow a level of respect for what Lucas was able to accomplish. It’s as if he had more respect for a straight-out bad guy that was good at what he did than for those of his brethren that were the real “crooks”. You have to watch the special features on the DVD to learn about what happens to this “bond” that Lucas and Roberts were able to forge. The ending is extremely anti-climactic, and as you would imagine, you can catch a glimpse of what happens after the final scene cuts off…on the DVD special features! What happens within the relationship of Lucas and Roberts is far more interesting than telling another story about a successful gangster, albeit one of the smarter ones to run a criminal enterprise. In the humble opinion of The Movie Mind, The fact that the viewers would be better off watching the special features DVD first means that they did a poor job of telling the whole story.
Submitted 3-18-08

Interesting Cameo Appearance:  There were quite a few surprises with rapper cameos such as: Wu-Tang’s RZA (as Moses Jones), Common (as Turner Lucas), T.I. (as Stevie Lucas), and one other nice surprise in Cuba Gooding Jr. as the flashy drug dealer Nicky Barnes.

Memorable Quotes:
Frank Lucas: The man I worked for had one of the biggest companies in New York City. He didn’t own his own company. White man owned it, so they owned him. Nobody owns me, though.

Frank Lucas: See, ya are what ya are in this world. That’s either one of two things: Either you’re somebody, or you ain’t nobody.

Dominic Cattano: How you feel about monopolies?
Frank Lucas: What, the game?

Frank Lucas: My man.

Frank Lucas: Now, I got no problem with you showin’ up in court tomorrow with your head blown in half.
Detective Richie Roberts: Get in line. That one stretches around the block too.

Frank Lucas: That’s a clown suit. That’s a costume, with a big sign on it that says “Arrest me”. You understand? You’re too loud, you’re making too much noise. Listen to me, the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.

Frank Lucas: I got Harlem. I took care of Harlem, so Harlem’s gonna take care of me.

Chinese General: It’s not in my best interest to say this Frank, but quitting while you’re ahead, is not the same as quitting.

Frank Lucas: Don’t rub, blot it! You blot that shit!

Frank Lucas: The most important thing in business is honesty, integrity, hardwork… family… never forgetting where we came from.

Dominic Cattano: Success. It’s got enemies. You can be successful and have enemies or you can be unsuccessful and have friends.

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