DVD Review

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  • Title: American Gangster Two-Disc Collector's Edition
  • Rating: R
  • Starring: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Carla Gugino
  • Written By: Steven Zaillian
  • Directed By: Ridley Scott
  • Distributor: Universal Pictures
  • Original Year of Release: 2007
  • Extras: Unrated Extended Cut of the film. Theatrical Cut of the Film. Deleted Scenes. Alternate Opening. Fallen Empire: Making of American Gangster. Case Files. Trailer.


Bob's review of the Two-Disc Collector's Edition

By Robert T. Trate, Columnist     February 17, 2008

American Gangster Two-Disc Collector's Edition(2008).
© Universal Pictures

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.

Special Features:

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.

What’s different?

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:

American Gangster (Combo HD DVD and Standard DVD)

American Gangster (Three-Disc Deluxe Edition)


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highdough 2/17/2008 12:02:33 AM
American Gangster was one of my favourites of last year, and I look forward to seeing the extended edition, but you could really have not given away the new ending to it, at least without warning us first.
GentlemenDeath 2/17/2008 11:44:57 AM
There was another drug lord ruling apart of Harlem at the time...but I can not remember his name. Him and Lucas did not work together but both were eventually brought down. Mainly, is this other guy in the film as well or is this the story of Lucas and Roberts?
muchdrama1 2/17/2008 2:13:05 PM
I loved how Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe grinned and hobnobbed with Frank Lucas in behind the scenes coverage of the movie. I guess they don't care that the drugs Lucas brought into the country killed many, many people. It almost sickens me.
Hobbs 2/17/2008 3:20:49 PM
They're rich, stuck up, God complex movie stars muchdrama. Are you really that surprised?
goldeneyez 2/18/2008 6:38:21 AM
I haven't seen the commentaries, but in response to muchdrama and Hobbs, I have two things to say. One, actors often have to form relationships with henious dispicable individuals if they are trying to understand a character they are playing. I don't imagine that Washington or Crowe are best buddies with Lucas now that the movie is over. Also, this might be akin to how investigators have to form friendships with deposed dictators to find out information about their former regimes... they had to do it with Saddam Hussein. Two the Frank Lucas probably has really good people skills, and that probably helped him to get to where he was when he running his crime organization. My guess is that Lucas is probably a really charming guy, a lot of sociopaths are or can be when called for.
Muldfeld 2/18/2008 8:56:47 PM
Muchdrama, I agree what Frank Lucas did was terrible, but, at some level, he grew up in a highly disciminated environment. When he was growing up blacks were regularly mistreated by authorities, so he had his own value system. He did bad things, but he's nowhere near as morally lacking as men who've grown up in prosperous circumstances and chosen to kill many more people for their own ego (the madness of empire) and money, like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney with their Haliburton inside dealings that undersupply troops and provide defective body armor and cheat everyone into a terrible war like it's a game, even when W. never wanted to serve in Vietnam, even when he supported that war. If you despise Lucas, I hope you realize the Bush administration is composed of far more criminally immoral people, who are responsible for far more deaths -- not the least of which is those victim to the disaster in the wake of Katrina, who've gotten no real help, while Bush funnels massive funds to corporations in the area. That's something really worth getting riled up about.


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