American Gangster is a 2007 crime film directed by Ridley Scott adapted from a New York magazine story "The Return of Superfly", by Mark Jacobson, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Washington portrays Frank Lucas, a real-life gangster from Harlem who smuggled heroin into the United States on American service planes returning from the Vietnam War. Crowe portrays Richie Roberts, a detective attempting to bring down Lucas' drug empire.
Filming was done on location in New York City. American Gangster was released in the United States and Canada on November 2, 2007. The film was also nominated for two Academy Awards, including a notable Best Supporting Actress nomination for Ruby Dee. This is the second film Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe worked on together after Virtuosity.
The beginning shows enforcer Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) burning and shooting a rival to death. Meanwhile Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson (Clarence Williams III), a disciplined and intelligent gangster, runs much of Harlem and imparts his wisdom onto Frank, his former driver turned right-hand man. Johnson dies of a heart attack in 1968, at an electronics store. Frank dislikes the new, flashy gangsters that are in line to take over Harlem and decides to take control himself.
Meanwhile, Newark Police Department detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is juggling a failing marriage, late-night law school classes, and his police career. When Richie and his partner, Javier Rivera, discover nearly $1 million in unmarked bills in a car, Richie resists temptation and turns the money in. His rare honesty makes him a hated member of his precinct, causing his partner to be exiled from the force, while Richie's rampant womanizing behavior and undercover double life leads his wife to seek a divorce and custody of their son. After his exiled partner dies from overdosing on "Blue Magic", a relatively new and powerful type of heroin being sold for less money than its competition, Richie's honesty catches him a break when his superior Captain Lou Toback (Ted Levine) puts him in charge of a newly created task force to stop major drug trafficking in Essex County, New Jersey by going after the actual supplier, rather than the middle-men. Richie handpicks honest cops and gets to work on finding who is supplying Blue Magic.
Lucas bought pure heroin wholesale (This was explained not in the movie but during an interview with Denzel Washington). Frank Lucas took advantage of the break up of the French Connection and actually went to Thailand to source out after hearing the stories of the soldiers who were returning from Vietnam and would talk about how cheap it was and how good the quality was. Frank Lucas had family in North Carolina and much of the drugs were brought into the local military base, the cost for Frank Lucas was $4,200 a kilo for 100% pure heroin and on the street, it was sold at maybe 5 percent purity. At one point it is estimated that Frank Lucas was bringing in $1,000,000 a day. The secret to Frank Lucas' business was that he manages to secretly smuggle the heroin into the United States by hiding the drugs in the coffins of soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. He creates a brand “Blue Magic” and with a great monopoly on quality product, Frank quickly makes a fortune and buys several nightclubs and apartments. He moves his family from North Carolina to New Jersey, where he purchases a large estate for his humble mother. His five brothers are enlisted as his lieutenants in the drug trade – forming “The Country Boys” who work together to traffic and sell dope on New York area streets. During his rise, Frank meets and falls in love with Eva, a Puerto Rican beauty queen. Through his discipline, organization, and willingness to kill those in his way, Frank quickly rises to the top of the Harlem drug and crime scene.
As Frank's business prospers, he makes a point of operating quietly and dressing with a modest conservatism both as a sign of strength and to avoid attracting the attention of the law. However, Frank disregards this habit for his soon-to-be wife for one ostentatious night out, attending the Fight of the Century between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, in a gaudy chinchilla fur coat and hat, along with a ringside seat. As it happens, Roberts is on duty observing the event and sees this unknown, but obviously wealthy person associating with high-level criminals, as well as having better seats than the Italian Mafia. Roberts becomes suspicious, and he begins to investigate this unknown (to him) figure in New York organized crime.
Even as Frank realizes he has exposed himself to police scrutiny, he must make deals with the Mafia, in this case Lucchese crime family Mob boss Dominic Cattano (Armand Assante), and fend off corrupt NYPD detectives, such as Det. Trupo (Josh Brolin), who attempt to extort and threaten him. Trupo's dislike of Frank is capped when his prized Shelby Mustang is bombed before his eyes. Frank must also contend with local crime figure Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who is taking some of Frank's product, diluting it himself, and selling it under Frank's "Blue Magic" brand name. Unidentified assassins try to kill Frank’s wife, further destabilizing him and threatening his marriage. Things take a turn for the worse when Frank sees the U.S. military vacating Vietnam, Fall of Saigon, which in turn cuts off his primary heroin transportation. His Kuomintang supplier sympathetically tells him "Quitting while you are ahead...is not the same as quitting."
Richie catches another break when his men witness Frank's cousin shooting a woman. They use the driver’s predicament to get him to wear a wire. The wire allows Richie and his task force to discover when a plane carrying drugs is landing. The plane is a C-130 carrying some of the last U.S. Soldiers returning from Vietnam. Richie has his men search everyone and everything literally tearing the plane apart and even looking in the coffins of dead soldiers. Richie is ordered to cease his search of the coffins by a Federal agent who dismisses his assessment of Lucas' dangerousness, declaring the inconceivability of a "negro"-run organization successfully outperforming the established Italian and Jewish drug families. Meanwhile, Trupo leads his band of police officers to Frank's mansion where they take Frank's emergency cash supply. Frank is enraged at what Trupo did, and sets out to kill him and other associated officers. Frank's mother pleads that he not go through with it, and Frank decides not to murder Trupo. When the plane lands, Richie and his men follow the drugs into Newark's projects and obtain a warrant. A huge group of police and detectives attack the drug apartments en masse and a large shootout ensues. Steve Lucas, Frank's nephew (T.I), who gave up a promising baseball career with the New York Yankees to work for his uncle, is arrested, ending the shootout. Frank is at church when the bust goes down, but he is arrested after the service ends. Richie meets with Frank and makes it clear to him that he has enough evidence to put him away for the rest of his life. He then tells Frank that he has a chance of doing a shorter term in jail if he helps him in the case.
With no other options, Frank decides to provide names of numerous other criminals, including his and Richie’s common enemies: corrupt NYC detectives. Numerous corrupt cops are arrested, and a distraught Trupo kills himself to avoid arrest. Richie, having passed the bar exam, prosecutes Frank. In the end, three quarters of NYC's Drug Enforcement Agency are arrested and convicted. Some time after the Lucas trial, he eventually leaves the prosecutor's office, and becomes a defense attorney. The first client he takes is Frank. Because of his cooperation, Frank receives a relatively light sentence of 15 years rather than the original 70. He is arrested in 1975. At the film’s end, he steps out of jail in 1991 significantly older and out of place.
In the extended edition on DVD, Richie meets with Frank after his prison sentence, and they both walk along a more peaceful and clean Harlem. Frank wonders what he will do for the rest of his life, and jokes about going back into his old business, which Richie quickly remarks that being a bad idea and promises to support Frank until he can get back on his feet. Frank also mentions that he hasn't talked to his brothers (or the rest of his family) for years, and comments that, "It's probably best for them." Frank is very apprehensive of the new things such as a high end sneaker store, as well as the new street gangsters that now walk around Harlem. The film ends with Frank remarking, "Everyone gets to be young once."
*Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas
*Russell Crowe as Det. Richie Roberts
*Josh Brolin as Det. Reno Trupo
*John Ortiz as Det. Javier Rivera
*Norman Reedus as Det. Norman Reilly
*Chiwetel Ejiofor as Huey Lucas
*Lymari Nadal as Eva Kendo Lucas
*Ted Levine as Capt. Lou Toback
*Roger Guenveur Smith as Nate
*Cuba Gooding Jr. as Nicky Barnes
*John Hawkes as Freddie Spearman
*RZA as Moses Jones
*Yul Vazquez as Alfonso Abruzzo
*Malcolm Goodwin as Jimmy Zee
*Ruby Dee as Mama Lucas
*Ruben Santiago-Hudson as Doc
*Carla Gugino as Laurie Roberts
*Armand Assante as Dominic Cattano
*Idris Elba as Tango
*Jon Polito as Rossi
*Clarence Williams III as Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson
*T.I. as Steve Lucas
*Common as Turner Lucas
In 2000, Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment purchased the rights to "The Return of Superfly", a New York magazine story by Mark Jacobson about the rise and fall of the 1970s heroin kingpin Frank Lucas. In 2002, screenwriter Steven Zaillian brought a 170-page script to director Ridley Scott, who expressed interest in making two films from it. However, Scott did not immediately pursue the project. In November 2003, Universal and Imagine entered negotiations with Brian De Palma to direct Tru Blu, with a script by Zaillian based on Frank Lucas. Zaillian interpreted the story as one of "American business and race", focusing the script thematically on corporate business. Production was initially slated for a spring 2004 start. In March 2004, the studio entered new negotiations with Antoine Fuqua to direct, as well as Denzel Washington to star in the film as Frank Lucas. The following May, Benicio del Toro entered negotiations to star as Detective Richie Roberts, who brought down Lucas. Production of Tru Blu was reset to begin in early fall 2004, with the film slated for a release date of June 3, 2005. In September 2004, Dania Ramirez entered negotiations to join the cast of the film, now titled American Gangster.
Universal Pictures reported that it greenlit American Gangster with a budget of $80 million, which escalated to $93 million, with $10 million for development costs and $3 million for the delay of the production start date. Sources close to the director insist that the budget was $93 million from the beginning. The studio also sought for American Gangster to be produced in Toronto rather than New York City to save money, but Fuqua resisted the re-location. The studio's parent company General Electric received tax credits in New York City, so production was moved to the city. The move, however, inflated the budget to $98 million. Fuqua's camp insisted that it was seeking ways to reduce the budget, but the studio contended several aspects of the project under him. The director had wanted to film a Vietnam sequence in Thailand and to cast notable names such as Ray Liotta and John C. Reilly in minor roles. To add to the studio's budgetary concerns, Fuqua was rewriting the script during the preproduction process. The director also did not have a shot-list, final locations, and supporting actors signed to initiate production.
Fuqua was fired on October 1, 2004, four weeks before principal photography would begin. The studio cited creative differences for the director's departure. After Fuqua's departure, the studio met with Peter Berg to take over directing the film, and Denzel Washington had approved of the choice. Due to the search potentially escalating a budget already in the US$80 million range and the difficulty in recouping the amount based on the film's subject matter, Universal canceled production of American Gangster, citing time constraints and creative elements for its reason. The cancellation cost the studio $30 million, of which $20 million went to Washington and $5 million went to del Toro due to their pay or play contracts. Entertainment Weekly reported that Fuqua's ambition to produce the film was primarily based on the prospect of an African-American director and an African-American actor leading a big-budget film that would potentially be nominated for Oscars.
In March 2005, American Gangster was revived as Universal and Imagine entered negotiations with Terry George to revise Zaillian's script and direct the film, which was to be financed with a target budget of US $50 million. The following May, Will Smith was approached to replace Washington as Frank Lucas, though an offer would be held off until George completed his revision of the script. After a meeting between Scott and Zaillian on another project, Zaillian brought the project up again with Scott, who decided he was ready to do it. Producer Brian Grazer and Imagine executive Jim Whitaker decided against pursuing George's attempt and to return to Zaillian's vision. In February 2006, Ridley Scott entered talks with the studio to take over American Gangster from George, returning to Zaillian's draft as the film's basis. Washington returned to his role as Lucas, and Russell Crowe was attached to star as Roberts.
Scott had discussed the script with actor Russell Crowe as they worked on A Good Year (2006) in France, and they sought to take on the project. The director reviewed Zaillian's script, Terry George's rewrite, and a revision by Richard Price during the project's incarnation with director Antoine Fuqua. Scott preferred Zaillian's approach and chose to follow it. In realizing the project, the director encountered a challenge in the script since the characters Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts do not encounter each other until twenty minutes before the end of the film. The director sought to flesh out the private universes of the characters that would evolve and have scenes cut between the two characters to provide a balance. Elements like Frank Lucas's interaction with his family and Richie Roberts' dysfunctional marriage were written to add to the characters' backgrounds.
Scott chose to direct American Gangster based on the paradoxical values of Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts. The film focuses a bit on the comparatively ethical business practices of the "wicked gangster" and the womanizing and failed marriage of the "do-gooder" police detective. Washington, who was not normally a fan of gangster films, chose to portray Lucas when he saw "the arc of the character" had ended with prices that Lucas paid for his actions. Crowe was drawn to the project based on his previous work with the director on Gladiator and A Good Year. Production was slated in summer 2006. To prepare for their roles, the actors met their real-life counterparts. Washington acquired Lucas's Southern accent, and Crowe practiced to match Roberts's manner of speaking and body language, requesting tape recordings of Roberts to assist in his preparation. The following March, the studio rehired Zaillian to rewrite the script for American Gangster. It was rumored that Washington got paid another $20 million for when the project was greenlit again; that rumor proved to be false. According to Variety, he only signed on for his gross.
Director Ridley Scott produced television commercials from the 1960s to the 1980s, which entailed visits to New York City in the same time period in which the film's story took place. The director sought to downplay a "Beatles" atmosphere to the film and to instead create a shabbier atmosphere. Scott described his perspective of the setting, "Harlem was really, really shabby, beautiful brownstones falling apart." Production and costume design was emphasized, transforming the location into the rundown streets of upper Manhattan from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Denzel Washington, as Frank Lucas, went through 64 different costume changes.
The director filmed American Gangster in 180 locations, an unusually high number for production, throughout New York's five boroughs. Approximately 50 to 60 locations were set in Harlem alone. The director also found several interiors that had been untouched since the 1940s and despite sanitary concerns, chose to film scenes in these locations. Frank Lucas's apartment in the movie was filmed at Hilton Hotel New York in Midtown Manhattan. All the locations in the film were authentic, with the exception of Frank Lucas' coffee shop, built as a set at the northeast corner of 122nd St and Lenox Avenue. Scott found filming in Harlem to be difficult, describing it as "an area of wide-avenued boulevards" whose concrete pavement and lack of trees provided poor opportunities for shooting angles. As well as being filmed in the five boroughs it was also filmed in Westchester County in Briarcliff Manor.
Box office performance
Over two weeks before the release of American Gangster, a screener for the film leaked online. The film debuted in the United States and Canada on November 2, 2007 in 3,054 theaters. In its opening weekend in the United States and Canada, American Gangster grossed $43,565,115, placing first in the weekend box office. Brandon Gray of Box Office Mojo reported that the film had the fastest start domestically for a crime saga and the film also had the best opening weekend for Denzel Washington as well as Russell Crowe. As of April 25, 2009, it has grossed $130,164,645 domestically and $136,300,329 in other territories for a worldwide total of $266,465,037. This makes the movie highly successful as its budget was $100 million and it recouped over two and a half times its budget.
The film received generally favorable reviews from critics. At the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, 79% of 199 reviewers approved of American Gangster. On the similar Metacritic, 38 accumulated reviews gave the film an average score of 76 out of 100. American Gangster was observed as a candidate for the Oscars based on the film's style and the performance of the actors, including the possibility of an Academy Award for Best Director for Ridley Scott. This text has been derived from on Wikipedia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License 3.0