In what is perhaps the most audacious smuggling operation in history, 70s drugs kingpin Frank Lucas used the coffins of ill-fated US soldiers to shift heroin from war-torn Vietnam to the States. Denzel Washington makes no apologies as the visionary, real-life American Gangster in director Ridley Scott's sharply riveting crime saga. And with Russell Crowe playing the ramshackle detective on Lucas' case, it's a guaranteed shot of pure heart-pumping entertainment.
Lucas ascends the ranks quickly after the mobster he's been chauffeuring for years passes away. He takes control in New York and soon leads the pack as the biggest supplier of heroin in the US. The messy transition of power warrants a film in itself so it takes a little while before Scott settles into gear. Meanwhile, Richie Roberts is trying to deal with the collapse of his marriage as well as the frightening realisation that he may be the last honest cop doing the rounds.
"A SMOULDERING LIVEWIRE PERFORMANCE"
With shades of Scarface and Serpico, the film isn't original, but there's a raw energy about Scott's direction and a smouldering livewire performance from Washington that keeps you on edge. And like his character, he resists being too flashy. Crowe makes a great counterpoint as Roberts, taking small, meditative steps on the way to nailing Lucas - and carrying the weight of that burden over his belt. The two stars rarely share a scene, but when they eventually find themselves in a room together, it's all the more satisfying because of it. Until then, Scott trades on the sense of that impending collision, flagging all of Lucas' little slip-ups and Roberts' minor breakthroughs for maximum dramatic effect, all of it culminating in a boldly muted finale. It's a cautionary tale as American as mom's apple pie - and the greedy boy who tried to eat it all himself.
American Gangster is out in the UK on 16th November 2007.