American Gangster (2007)

Gangster films have a mysterious appeal in American culture. Everyone (OK, maybe this is a guy thing?) has some hidden longing to be The Godfather or Tony Montana from Scarface, or if not to be them, at least admires them. These people are criminals and everyone knows it. Therein lies the attraction, gangsters are symbols of pride and power, and we secretly would rather be feared than loved.

Ridley Scott’s American Gangster take up a similar story, based on real events, with some interesting twists. Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), decides to take advantage of the war in Vietnam, and buy directly from the fields of heroin, using military friends and relatives to smuggle it back in military planes. Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is a cop, and law-student, who gets further drawn into investigating the growing drug problems in NYC. The film follows both of these men as their lives get further and further entangled. The film highlights the arrogance that starts to take over Lucas’ life as he gains power and money, while showing the increasing vulnerability of Richie as his life is falling apart. The film avoids trying to be a detective crime thriller and instead becomes a character study of who it is Lucas and Roberts long to be, and the difficult choices we have to make to get there.

Gangster films trouble the idea of the American Dream while still holding the promise of its success. This film goes further by arguing that we might have to surrender the dream to something better and more real: the relationships of those closest to us. This film works as heightened metaphor for the choices we make and the people we want to become.

Greg Veltman

IMDb
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