The Reviewing Network’s Favorite Movies #46: American Gangster

American Gangster is a 2007 American biographical crime film directed and produced by Ridley Scott and written by Steven Zaillian. The film is fictionally based on the criminal career of Frank Lucas, a gangster from La Grange, North Carolina who smuggled heroin into the United States on American service planes returning from the Vietnam War, before being detained by a task force led by detective Richie Roberts. The film stars Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington in their first lead acting roles together since 1995’s Virtuosity. The film also co-stars Ted Levine, John Ortiz, Josh Brolin, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Norman Reedus, Ruby Dee, Lymari Nadal and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Development for the film initially began in 2000, when Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment purchased the rights to a New York magazine story about the rise and fall of Lucas. Two years later, screenwriter Steven Zaillian introduced a 170-page scriptment to Scott. Original production plans were to commence in Toronto for budget purposes; however, production eventually relocated permanently to New York City. Because of the film’s rising budget Universal canceled production in 2004. After negotiations with Terry George, it was later revived with Scott at the helm in March 2005. Principal photography commenced over a period of five months from July to December 2006; filming took place throughout New York City and concluded in Thailand.

American Gangster premiered in New York on October 20, 2007, and was released in the United States and Canada on November 2. The film was well received by most film critics, and grossed over US$266.5 million worldwide, with domestic grosses standing at $130.1 million. Many of the people portrayed, including Roberts and Lucas, have stated that the film took a lot of creative license with the story, and three former DEA agents sued Universal claiming the agency’s portrayal was demoralizing. American Gangster was nominated for twenty-one awards, including two Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction and Best Supporting Actress (Ruby Dee), and won three including a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role for Dee.

Here you have two actors at the top of their game. Denzel Washington & Russell Crowe giving their best performances of the decade and director Ridley Scott delivering his best directorial effort in years.

That’s not to say that Washington & Crowe haven’t had other great performances this decade. I mean, they were both great in Training Day and A Beautiful Mind, which were two films that almost made the list.

American Gangster, even at almost three hours long, is a very entertaining and enjoyable film with strong supportive performances from the rest of the cast and great character development, and fantastic set pieces. It’s probably the best movie of its’ kind since ‘Scarface’.

If you haven’t seen this film, go check it out, it’s a fantastic movie.

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