American Gangster

New Rochelle’s own Ruby Dee plays the mother of Mt. Vernon’s own Denzel Washington in this true 1960’s story about narcotics dealing in Harlem.

Denzel is African American super drug dealer Frank Lucas who imported heroin directly from Thailand through Vietnam during the Vietnam war.  Through a military contact, the drugs were smuggled in caskets alongside those of fallen GI’s.

Frank Lucas, Denzel’s character, is low key and careful but twice he allows himself to get caught with his pants down, once when his beauty queen wife gives him a $50,000 chinchilla coat and hat, and once when a relative in his employ has drugs in the trunk of Frank’s car.  In the first case he throws the coat into the fire, and in the second he beats the relative senseless.

The underlying plot is the open way in which NYC drug cops took bribes of drug money in the worst police corruption scandal in NYC history.

Denzel’s protagonist is police detective Richie Roberts, capably played by Russell Crowe.  Both men give good performances, but by the time I checked my watch–a bad sign for any movie–we were 2:08 in.  The movie ran a solid 2 ½ hours.

Educational, yes;  good performances, yes;  entertaining, no;  too long, yes.  2 ½ stars.

Marc Streitenfeld’s score was good.  In a twist, Crowe’s character goes from cop to lawyer and has as his first client Denzel’s character.  Not to give up all the details, but Denzel’s character got a very substantial break–from 70 to 15 years–for testifying against…well I wouldn’t want to give away a key point…