American Gangster Movie Review
American Gangster, another movie to hit us late, two months later to be precise. It had a great opening week-end in the US and is supposedly based on a true life story of a druglord of the seventies Frank Lucas. The film’s a hit, although there is controversy surrounding the film. Frank Lucas has said that the film is only about 20 percent accurate. That would be expected because Lucas is portrayed as violent and unrepentant. The cop in the movie, Ritchie Roberts has also said the movie is inaccurate, particularly the parts where Lucas is shown as a family man. In all films which try to portray real-life events, such controversies abound, and if the director had stuck to proven facts the film would have been a documentary.
I was expecting a dark, violent film, but even though the violent scenes do make one want to look away, there are other parts of the movie which are very very different. The parts about Lucas’ family, about what makes Lucas the man he is, about his wheeling and dealing. There is a lot about the cop too, Ritchie Roberts (Russell Crowe), a lot about what makes him tick, his family life, and why he is honest when all the cops around him are not.
Denzel Washington plays the suave drug dealer Frank Lucas who runs the drug business during the Vietnam war. He reportedly makes a million dollars a day by not just distributing but also sourcing the drugs straight from Vietnam, cutting out middle men. He uses his own relatives to distribute.
Russell Crowe does a great job as the lawyer cop Ritchie Roberts. So does Washington as Lucas. The whole story is a win-lose game between these two characters but what was realistic was that neither of the two knew who the other was, not until the end. I guess in real life there is hardly ever an actual stand-off between ‘hero’ and ‘villain’. In this movie, the police are shown groping in the dark for clues, studying a hundred suspects and the criminals are those who couldn’t care less about the actual personalities of the cops.
In this film the hero, or rather anti-hero, is Frank Lucas. Most of the movie is about him and this makes us sympathise with him, makes us wish he is never caught. The director, Ridley Scott, does remind us that the man is a cold blooded murderer and a conscienceless drug dealer. He does this by showing Lucas ruthlessly killing people and by contrasting Lucas’ lavish lifestyle with that of young innocents who have fallen victim to drug abuse. Yet, we feel sympathy with Lucas. This is partly because Ritchie is not that likable or as interesting. Sure, he is honest, hardworking and committed to his job, but comes across as a bit dull. He has less screen time than Lucas in any case.
An attempt is made to bring out a contrast between these two men. A ruthless killer drug dealer who is nevertheless a family man who loves his wife and mother to distraction and an honest cop who cheats on his wife. In real life people are often a bundle of contradictions and that is what perhaps the director was trying to say.
Another thing I found interesting in the film was that the New York police of the early seventies are shown to be exceedingly corrupt (there are claims that this is inaccurate). Ritchie is unique because he is honest…so honest that no one wants to partner him. Having an honest reputation is something that will make all your colleagues shun you! I can’t help thinking that this is the situation in India today, where an honest cop who stands up for the truth and fights for justice is an exception rather than the rule. He is constantly punished by the system.
This film was nominated for two Oscars, but it wasn’t for Best Picture or for Best Actor. It was Ruby Dee, who plays Frank Lucas’ mother, who was nominated as supporting actress and the other nomination was for Art Direction. Her performance is a poignant one and reminds us of how women, mothers and wives, can be torn between what is right and the love they have for their men. I found realism here too as both Lucas’ wife Eva (Lymari Nadal) and his mother are aware that Lucas is a criminal. They also know that he is a killer…but they turn a blind eye. This is so different from Bollywood movies, where everything is black and white. The women who hang around the villain are either dumb molls and/or evil sidekicks or innocent babes completely unaware of what the man in their life is doing.
Overall, this movie is worth a watch. Not for kids though.
(Photograph is from insomaniacmag)