Ridley Scott’s heavyweight crime saga tells the true story of Harlem drug smuggler Frank Lucas, commandingly portrayed by Denzel Washington. Charting his humble beginnings as he makes in-roads into a line of business dominated by the Italian mafia, we witness his establishment of a successful smuggling operation that daringly utilises the services of American soldiers returning from Vietnam. But hard on Lucas’ trail is dogged cop Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), who’s determined to bring him down.
Ridley Scott’s film is something of an overlooked entry in the pantheon of great gangster films. Effortlessly weaving period detail, superfly Blaxploitation sounds and immersive crime intrigue, American Gangster also boasts a fine supporting cast that includes rap stars like RZA and Common. While the film’s moral centre always resides with Roberts, Steven Zaillian’s empathetic script also makes room for Lucas’ redemption, in a role for which Washington’s effortless charisma was tailor-made.