American Gangster is not the best delivery of "good guy versus bad guy." Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe's characters are on opposite sides of the law, yes, and their stories are told concurrently, but the pair don't even meet until near the end.
Considering his unending on-screen charisma, when Washington plays Frank Lucas, a creep, it's usually the guy you hate to love. As a young man, Lucas drove a notable mob boss around Harlem for 15 years soaking up the "how-to's." When the boss dies, Lucas opts to open his own heroin ring and become something of a kingpin himself. He's smooth, well-dressed and has all the power in the world. The only thing that keeps you from rooting for him over troubled cop Richie Roberts (Crowe) is that he shoots people in the face and gets the whole city strung out on smack. Jerk, anyone?
Oh, Lucas and Roberts don't get much for banter, but the pair definitely tread new ground when the film takes an unusual turn near the end. Sadly, the conclusion's plot shift isn't set up well, but with an already overwhelming 2:45 run time, most folks won't wish they'd included more in the story. For a film about organized crime and narcotics, American Gangster has neither The Godfather's slow pace nor Blow's degenerate party scenes. What you get instead is a story of two men from decidedly different sides of the tracks and how their lives become intertwined.
This video courtesy of Hollywood Video, 590 Broadway Ave., 208-342-6117.