Gangster’ an American epic

The world was very different during the 1970s. We were hopelessly engaged in an unpopular war, police were notoriously corrupt and drug use was dangerously prevalent. OK, so some things never change.

Enter Frank Lucas – family man, community leader, gifted entrepreneur, natural-born killer. Clocking in at more than two-and-a-half hours, Ridley Scott’s latest is the thinking man’s Scarface.

Sure, American Gangster does everything it can to earn its R rating, but it does so in a pensive and delving manner. It is able to reverently pay tribute to the epic gangster films that have preceded it without living in the land of the traditional shoot ’em-up flick by substituting glamour for true grit.

Based on not only real life but also a Mark Jacobson article written for New York Magazine titled "The Return of Superfly," Gangster chronicles the life of the aforementioned lovable drug lord during his reign of power in Harlem. Before becoming a household name, Lucas (Denzel Washington) was the driver of his predecessor, Bumpy, the charitable black crime boss. With Bumpy’s death early in the film, Lucas seizes the golden opportunity to realize his version of the American Dream. Through sheer ingenuity and family in far-away places, he goes to Vietnam to eliminate the pesky middleman in the drug business – and you better believe it’s a real business – and revolutionizes the drug scene in his community by underselling the competition with a higher-quality product. It’s economics.

In the environment Lucas creates, it is easy for the average promiscuous dope fiend to fall in love with the kingpin and all the while display the kind of loyalty that reeks of Stockholm syndrome. Then people begin to die and realize the tragic effects of his famed Blue Magic on the very community to which Lucas would pass out Thanksgiving turkeys.

Given this personality, it becomes crystal clear that Washington is just the man for the job. He is the perfect potent combination of cool, collected, classy and unapologetically vicious – but only when need be. His aggression is like a teakettle that sits and sits on the stove until it can contain the pressure no more. He will shoot a man in the face in broad daylight then return to a nice family brunch without breaking a sweat.

He is not fooling around. He strives for an air of legitimacy and to live under the radar to set a good example for those serving him. He is a civil servant with strong morals and and even stronger work ethic.

In the meantime, a golden boy of the police squad, honest through and through, spends the better half of the film on Lucas’ tail. Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) proves to be a worthy adversary to Washington’s Lucas, but never encroaches upon his role as protagonist. From the backburner, the detective plays the yin to the gangster’s yang and serves to highlight their shared solid principles. But the town ain’t big enough for the both of ’em.

In contrast, while Roberts did the honorable thing and turned in almost a million dollars to evidence (to the utter amazement of all who heard about it), about 75 percent of his police buddies were eventually convicted on corruption charges.

American Gangster appeals to the Law ‘ Order fan in us all. Justice prevails and the righteous pillars on which America stands hold strong and true.

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