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American Gangster


The Diva's review of
American Gangster(2007)


American gangster
Rated;running time of 2 hours and 37 minutes
Genre: Thriller/Drama
Written by : Steven Zaillian, based on the article "The Return of Superfly" by Mark Jacobson
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Brolin, Lymari Nadal, RZA, Ted Levine, Ruby Dee, Armand Assante, Carla Gugino
Theatrical release Date: 11/02/07


The Digest

In 1968 Harlem godfather Bumpy Johnson is tired. Bumpy has run these streets in one way or another since the earlier 30s.And right by his side for the last 15 has been Frank Lucas. A dedicated soldier. A body guard. A driver. A surrogate son.

It should be no surprise that it is Frank who is at Bumpy’s side when a heart attack takes his life. The death of Bumpy puts Harlem in a tailspin because he didn’t name a successor. It is every man for himself and Frank is not on the winning team. Until he has a stroke of genius.

He is doing some small time heroin dealing and he notices that a lot of the servicemen are coming back from Vietnam completely strung out. He is also seeing news reports of addiction overseas is climbing fast. So the enterprising Frank actually flies to Vietnam and with the help of his contacts goes straight to the source. Straight to the poppy fields. I suppose his guts impresses the general enough that he agrees to sell to him directly and cuts out on the middle man.

Frank then manages to bring the product home and he decides to slash the price. So essentially he is selling heroine that is twice as potent than anything currently on the streets and for half the price of anything on the streets. Pretty soon, some of the mob is answering to him.

Meanwhile Richie Roberts is making a name for himself for his honesty. He found nearly a million dollars in unmarked drug money and he actually turned it in. Now you and I might think nothing of that. He is a cop, that’s what cops should do. But in a time of corruption this act makes him look suspicious. Also (I think) the money was actually supposed to be paying off the cops so he has just pissed off the entire force.

Because of this he gets transferred to a new narcotics squad. They are going to take down the drug kingpins and try to stomp out the flow of heroin, Because Frank is very careful, it takes about 5 years, but eventually Frank shows up on Richie’s radar and thus starts the cat and mouse game that might mean the death of them both.

The Dish

Lord where do I begin? Okay. I’ll start without the cultural and personal baggage.

This will be on top ten lists at the end of the year and will probably be on the short list for various Oscars. The acting is tight. No, superb. Director Ridley Scott tells an engaging story all based on a news article… or is it? (more on that later) . Personally I would have shaved off about 30 minutes to quicken the pace. I also would have tightened up Richie’s story to liven it up a bit because nothing compares to Denzel chewing up the scenes, this man is one of the best actors I’ve ever seen. Time after time he turns in amazing performances. Even when his Frank is walking up to a man and shooting him the head, you don’t dare blink or look away. Mr. Washington is so dynamic and mesmerizing that it is very difficult to outshine him especially when his opposing actor doesn’t have as a compelling story.

I welcomed, no relished, seeing Mother Ruby Dee on the screen. Mother Dee’s career has spanned over 60 years and you can see why. I’ve been very happy with the progression of Rapper’s turned actors Common and T.I. They both should go far if they keep turning out these kinds of performances (and if T.I. can stay out of jail – dumbass) And of course Chiwetel Ejiofor he is just an amazing actor. The other surprise is Josh Brolin. I haven’t seen him this awesome in years.

Let me say it again, this is the kind of movie that Oscar voters love.

The Discussion

My father was a Vietnam Vet turned heroin addict and I have a hard time watching people doing this to themselves. Daddy made his own choices, but I have to wonder what his life, what my life would have been like if he hadn’t gotten involved in drugs –possibly Frank Lucas’ drugs.

As this hits me while I’m watching the movie, my mind kind of wanders. I think back at my joy of seeing Bumpy Johnson portrayed on screen again. I like Hoodlum, in which Laurence Fishburne plays Bumpy, I like it without analyzing it much, without realizing that I’m celebrating the life hardened and vicious criminal. The same holds true with American Gangster

How does this mass murderer make you cheer for him? Yes Mass murderer. His drugs resulted in the deaths of thousands, not to mention the people he actually killed by his own direct hand. I have a theory which will most likely get me in trouble, but oh well. I think it all goes back to racism. Think about it. What was the most appealing plot device in Blaxploitation movies? Sticking it to the man! The cheering at the OJ trial? A black man finally came out on top. (FWIW, I believe the man is guilty and I think the cheering was wrong, but I understand it)

So here we are in the 60s and 70s off the heels of the civil rights movement a man with no more than a 3rd grade education manages to outsmart every person and institution that has been put in place to make sure he still feels like 3/5th of a person.

You might think I’m making a huge deal out of this, but it’s not just about American Gangster the movie, it’sAmerican Gangster the television show that just came out on video and Mr. Untouchable which just was in theaters a week ago. Back to back to back criminal and murdering black men on full display. In full over display. Are we going to cheer for these men who beat the system? You know my other theory is that a lot of the gangster rap comes out of adulation of the pimps and gangsters shown in Blaxploitation movies of the 70s. The release of all these movies to the masses that include the 12 year old boy dressed up as a pimp for Halloween.

Now that I’ve mentioned Mr. Untouchable I should tell you it is a documentary about Nicky Barnes who makes an appearance in AG as interpreted by Cuba Gooding Jr. and curiously enough, there were quite a few stories and situations that were in Nicky Barnes’ life that mirrored AG. So who do I believe? A documentary with independent accounts of the same thing or do I believe Hollywood? Do I believe the AG now in his 70s, Frank Lucas or do I believe the 93 year old widow of Bumpy Johnson who is calling Frank a liar and a jerk - Harlem Godfather: The Rap on My Husband, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson Even some of the police officers are disputing some of the "facts" put forth. So what is my point? In a nutshell I really don’t want kids being hit from every direction with glorified stories of criminals. My concern over the fact that there are about 11 or 12 black films each year and I don’t 40% to be about sex, drugs, and crime. I’m concerned about the image that society has of black men and then having that reinforced.

The Directive

I still like this movie, and I’m not going to discourage anyone from seeing it, but perhaps we can view it responsibly.

3BC Ratings

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American Gangster is a lesson on American Capitalism, for better or worse.

Copyright Kamal "The Diva" Larsuel-Ulbricht, 2007
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