At the beginning of the Unrated Extended cut of ‘American Gangster’ I started to feel as if the film itself had nothing new to offer the genre. There wasn’t much to the film that I hadn’t seen before. Our Anti-Hero/ Drug Lord, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), is a sharp, brilliant, likable, self sufficient man with a keen eye for people and knowing exactly what they want. He has rules (which of course he will eventually break) and a plan to get everything he wants out of life. Frank is married and puts too much faith in family, both of which are always a downfall. Eventually our charismatic killer will go for that last big score in the hopes to save his empire closing the books on him for good.
It is almost as if Frank Lucas was written right out of some screenwriters textbook for would-be authors. I’m not taking anything away from Denzel Washington’s performance. The man is brilliant, but where ‘American Gangster’ differs is that it parallels Washington’s Frank Lucas with his nemesis Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe). That is where ‘American Gangster’ stands out above all the rest.
This film is based on the true story. Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts both contributed to the script/ story. It is my belief that director Ridley Scott has painted a realistic portrayal of the events that transpired between these two men and the drug known as “Blue Magic”.
Detective Richie Roberts is a shy, lonely womanizer and disliked by his peers. His work is all that he has and it is the one thing that drives him. His personal life is in shambles. Robert’s wife and son are gone. His only friends are old buddies with mob ties. Fellow police officers refer to him as a boy scout because he turned in a million dollars in drug money and never batted an eye. Besides the obvious parallels between the characters and their traits, both men come from nothing. Each is self made and each has a plan that they will see to the bitter end.
Frank Lucas knows what he is doing is harmful to people. However, he is only the supplier and “Blue Magic” is his commodity. Like selling shoes or a TV set; Lucas gives the people the best of what they want, 100% pure heroine, at prices that beat the competitors. This puts other dealers out of business and makes Lucas untouchable, invisible and insanely rich.
While Frank is making his fortune, with little or no hassle, the parallel is Roberts is having problems finding out who is selling “Blue Magic”. Robert’s major problem is police corruption. Dirty cops that are cracking down on the dealers then selling it back to them and the mob. In short, the police have become the middle man, making a profit with little or no work and walking away scott free. By the end of the film, a revelation reveals that Roberts wasn’t only after Lucas but the real problem, the corrupt cops. Again this is where the film differs and sets itself apart from the rest of the genre. It’s just not about taking down the one bad guy. It’s about taking them all down.
The Unrated Extended cut is perhaps Ridley Scott’s best work. Scott creates a masterpiece of story telling by using Steven Zaillian’s brilliant script and casting two actors that are phenomenal as the leads. What really sets this film apart from the now typical gangster film is that in ‘American Gangster’ we have an even handed telling of a true life event told from both sides the story. The events are not glamorized or told with a surrealistic quality. This is down and dirty cops and robbers with brutal realism that plays every moment perfectly. ‘American Gangster’ sets a precedent which will not be surpassed any time soon.
The DVD includes both the theatrical cut and the Unrated Extended cut. The Unrated Extended cut with it’s nearly three hour run times flies by and gives the audience what it has recently be lacking, a great story with great actors.
The bonus disc for ‘American Gangster’ is loaded with documentaries that deal with the people and places of the time in which the film is set. “Fallen Empire: Making of American Gangster” is the must see special feature. The real Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts are seen together in helping with the creation the film. Each is seen with their theatrical counter part and each actor discusses having them available to truly find the emotion and feeling behind individual moments. Brain Grazer (producer) calls Frank Lucas “weirdly honest” when it comes to his life and many are taken with his charisma. Yet, it is Roberts who reminds us all what he is and where he comes from. Their connection to this very day (Roberts and Lucas) is unique.
“Case Files” is an interesting look at the making of the film from a writing standpoint. Here you will witness the writer, the director and the real person all giving input to see the story be told as true to life as possible. Along with watching these sessions be sure to catch Ridley Scott and his minimum three cameras set up routine. Any and all would-be filmmakers should consider this part of the special features required viewing.
There are tiny moments here and there in the extended version which make little difference to the overall story. The big moment, approximately eleven minutes out of the new additional eighteen, is the added epilogue. Here we see Frank Lucas emerge from prison fifteen years later. In the original cut Frank is released and then it fades to black. In this extended version the camera turns around and we see that Frank is greeted by Richie Roberts. Why is this important? It reveals their relationship after the events that transpired. Frank having paid his debt to society must now walk the earth a free man. Richie is there to make sure that Frank is taken care of. He is after all the man who helped Richie get over 150 convictions. This additional eleven minutes is essential. This additional scene, again, sets it apart from other gangster genre films but showing that life goes on. People can change and that there is honor even between enemies.
For those that are interested there is also a: