“Success Took a Shot” – American Gangster Review

American have all these funny and intriguing stories about things that never happened. Like the plethora of films about the Vietnam War (Full Metal Jacket) and Desert Storm (Three Kings). One still has to see one war movie that shows America losing instead of always being the victors, often against history’s lessons. Americans are good at distorting history to their benefit.

So I had the same cynicism going into watching the DVD of American Gangster starring my favourite actors of all times, Denzel Washington, Common, Idris Elba, Cuba Gooding Jr and Russel Crowe. Denzel outdid himself. I was cynical like the FBI agent in the film who asked if a black person has ever been good at pulling an operation of organised crime proportions like the Sicilian Mafia.

Simply put American Gangster is the story of the first black organised criminal at the time that darkies still referred to whites as Massas, who managed to flood America with his brand of heroin labeled Blue Magic which he was getting from the killing fields of South East Asia. It turned blue due to a chemical reaction when it was cut for the market.

The film starts with Lucas’ boss dying barely minutes into the flick and a power void opens with him and another protégé played by Elba wanting to be the next big thing on the streets of New York. Elba has his philosophy of always giving 25% to his dealers while Lucas’ strategy of dominance is to get the best cut heroin in the market and sell at a below market value street bargain. Thus, it results in low margins = high profits.

Lucas uses his first big payday to relocate his family to New York and New Jersey where he buys his mom a huge house and puts every single cousin and nephew into his empire. The mother seems not to know how the cash is made, but it’s more like ‘ask me no questions and I tell you no lies'. Cash is flush and Lucas marries Miss Puerto Rico and starts living the high life eating out and enjoying his money – though discreetly.

At the same time – concurrently there is a police investigation into the flooding of narcotics into the streets and suspects keep popping up on the board at the precinct. At this point Elba is gone – shot execution-style by Lucas while the whole hood witnessed. The police are lining up their potential suspects.

However the police are also fighting another battle – corrupt cops within their ranks who are colluding with both Lucas and the Mafia and taking bribes to lose dockets. Almost everyone is on the take but for one officer played by Crowe.

Lucas falls into a trap when his wife buys him a mink coat which he wears to a boxing fight –front-row seat. Those are seats reserved for friends of boxers and promoters, not a Jim Crow in the sixties. At realizing that he has been marked he destroys it but it’s already too late. The cops are on him. What makes matters worse for him is that he is using US Air Force transport planes to ferry his cargo from South East Asia to the US. His drugs enter America concealed within the corpses of dead GIs. That’s his mode of transport. He runs laboratories all over New York and retails under masquerade of legal business.

When the Vietnam War ends it means his supply route is about to be closed. He makes one last desperate dash which results in his massive consignment confiscated by the cops.

I don’t want to give away the plot of this multi-layered story with enough twists and turns to last you the whole movie. It has so many sub-plots that at times you can hardly predict what is going to happen next. Well-written, excellent acting, brilliantly directed by Ridley Scott and the cinematography deserves a bigger award. They say it’s based on a true story.

American Gangster is already on DVD and it’s as good as it was when it first hit the silver screen more than a year ago. It’s Denzel at his best. Go rent or buy it.

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