Is American Gangster a libertarian movie? I wouldn’t go that far, but it certainly shows Frank Lucas, the “gangster” portrayed by Denzel Washington, to be a businessman who serves consumers, in contrast with the evil cops who extort protection money and serve no one but themselves. (Indeed, Lucas does not run a protection racket and snubs both types of thugs seeking tribute from him: the other gangsters and the state.)
Every once in a while, the director seems to suddenly realize he shouldn’t make a heroin trafficker seem too likable, so he tosses in some quick shots of pathetic junkies, or out-of-place acts of violence, such as the inexplicable, graphic one that opens the movie. Then there’s Russell Crowe as the obligatory clean cop — but even he can’t create doubt as to who’s the movie’s real hero.
In sum, the movie feels false when it cheats on the idea that predominates: that Frank Lucas was an innovative entrepreneur, a young, black Vito Corleone who, whatever his flaws, was far better than the gangsters in government. American Gangster is more Godfather than Goodfellas, and one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.10:08 pm on November 13, 2007 Email Jacob Huebert