Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 45
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate

Henderson Sotheby's International Realty

N.T. Callaway Princeton Office

Stockton Real Estate, LLC

Weichert, Realtors

Advertise in Town Topics

Iris Interiors

Advertise in Town Topics

Weather Forecast


For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

THE CRIMINAL FACES HIS CAPTOR: Frank Lucas (left), who built up a multi-million dollar heroin smuggling business is finally brought to justice by the “untouchable” policeman turned prosecutor Richie Roberts.

American Gangster: Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in Frank Lucas Saga

At the height of his reign as New York’s heroin kingpin during the Vietnam War, Frank Lucas was raking in over a million dollars a day. This was extraordinary for a former sharecropper who had arrived from rural North Carolina penniless and with no formal education.

For the previous twenty years, he had learned the business from Harlem’s most notorious mobster, the legendary Bumpy Johnson. And after his mentor passed away Lucas summoned his five younger brothers from North Carolina to join him in an illicit family operation.

Known as the Country Boys, Frank restricted membership in his gang to relatives and friends from his hometown; only hiring people he felt he could trust and control. However, his heroin ring really became successful when he figured out a way to buy the dope directly from poppy growers in Southeast Asia.

With the help of soldiers stationed overseas and in domestic military bases, he smuggled uncut drugs into the country in the caskets of soldiers who were killed in the Vietnam war. As a consequence, Frank’s “Blue Magic” brand of smack was twice as pure as any rival’s but sold for half the price.

Before he and his confederates were caught and sent to prison, Lucas amassed a personal fortune in the hundreds of millions of dollars. While some might admire a man from such humble roots for having developed an operation with a corporate structure, don’t forget that he was a cold-blooded killer who never gave a second thought about exploiting his fellow human beings or assassinating any policeman or competitor who stood in his way.

Howevers, since nothing is more compelling than a gangster tale, it is not surprising that the story of Frank Lucas’s rise and fall has been made into a film. Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie stars Denzel Washington in the title role matching wits with Russell Crowe as Richie Roberts, the honest cop, who became a prosecutor and brought Frank to justice.

American Gangster unfolds like a blackface version of The Godfather, exploring an array of universal themes ranging from loyalty and betrayal, love and hate, ambition and corruption, and sin and redemption. Unfortunately, in spite of its $100 million budget and star-studded cast (including Cuba Gooding, Jr., Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ruby Dee, Josh Brolin, Carla Gugino, Roger Guenveur Smith, Joe Morton, and rappers T.I., Common and RZA), the picture adds up to less than the sum of its parts and is likely to leave a sour taste in the mouths of viewers.

The film feels like an overextended gangsta rap video with gratuitous violence and displays of topless women. In general, the female characters are simplistic one-dimensional caricatures.

The main scenes of the film contrast Frank and Richie’s flawed souls in order to highlight ironic situations. Frank may be a despicable gangster who has ruined countless lives, but he is a devoted family man and a good provider. On the other hand, Richie is an honest police officer, but his personal life is in shambles because of a messy divorce, shallow relationships, and ostracism by his colleagues.

Why Ridley Scott would have Frank Lucas’s biopic revolve around a juxtaposition equating good with evil is beyond this reviewer, especially when the New York Magazine article (, upon which American Gangster is based, makes no mention of Richie Roberts.

Fair (1.5 stars). Rated R for female nudity, sexuality, profanity, ethnic slurs, violence and drug content. Running time: 157 minutes. Studio: Universal Pictures.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

Return to Top | Go to Music and Theater Reviews

Town Topics® may be purchased on Wednesday mornings at the following locations: Princeton — McCaffrey’s, Cox’s, Kiosk (Palmer Square), Krauszer’s (State Road), Olives, Speedy Mart (State Road), Wawa (University Place); Hopewell — Village Express; Rocky Hill — Wawa (Route 518); Pennington — Pennington Market.
Copyright© Town Topics®, Inc. 2011.