‘American Gangster’ is a revised, better ‘Scarface’

This year’s newest blockbuster is Ridley Scott-directed American Gangster starring Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe and Cuba Gooding Jr. with rappers Common and T.I. The opening scene follows gangster Bumpy Johnson instilling his lessons and thoughts on his apprentice, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), as they walk through the Harlem streets, setting the foundation for an amazing film and truly suspenseful tale.

American Gangster tells the story of the rise and fall of Lucas, one of Harlem’s most well-known and successful drug kingpins. The film follows Lucas from his apprenticeship to the late Bumpy Johnson, another drug lord of New York, to his climb to the top by means of bribery, extortion, money laundering, drug trafficking and murder. Along the way, he attracts the attention of an ultra-honest cop, Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), a commodity in the 1970s string of corrupt law enforcement officers.

The film is similar to Ted Demme’s Blow in that it tells the story of a horrific criminal who took so many lives in search for his riches, and it portrays him in such a light that by the end the viewer wants to be his closest friend. Even though it is apparent that Frank Lucas was a monster who put drugs on every street corner, the director does a great job in honoring Lucas’ business savvy and adoration of his family.

Gangster is also very aesthetically pleasing, as it truly captures the different moods of the film-from the constant flashes on the TV of the Vietnam War to the gloomy scenes of overdosed drug addicts to the glitz and glamour of when Lucas spent time with the likes of Joe Lewis and Wilt Chamberlain.

In reality, American Gangster is an updated Scarface. However, the drug is not cocaine, it is heroin; the city is not sex-driven Miami, it is gloomy New York City; the main man is not the heavily accented thug yet silky smooth villain of Tony Montana, he is the slang-speaking and business-minded Frank Lucas. Yet, what sets the two epic-long thrillers apart is that after seeing over two-and-a-half hours of each respective antagonist, the storyline of American Gangster never gets dry, and one wishes they could see the last chapter of the Harlem legend’s story.

Daniel Buyanovsky may be contacted at d.buyanovsky@umiami.edu.