Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Movie Review: American Gangster (mild spoiler alert).

I'll leave it to others to delineate comparisons between American Gangster and other gangster movies, such as The Godfather.

However, echoes of the signature splicing in the later film between church attendance and nefarious conduct outside of it could not be missed in the former. Current culture's fascination with mobster movies or television shows (viz, The Sopranos) puzzles me, but if you appreciate the genre, Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott's latest offering should be in your viewing queue. Even if you don't like gangster fare, the combined presence of these giants in modern filmmaking alone should cause you pause to see it.

Based on a true story from the 1970s, American Gangster, explores Frank Lucas' rise and fall in the drug trade. Lucas' fall was hastened by Russell Crowe's character, Richie Roberts. According to the movie, which may or may not align precisely with reality, Roberts became a lawyer while working in law enforcement in New Jersey. In addition to performing the detective work, Roberts actually prosecuted Lucas. For example, the film shows Roberts delivering an opening statement to the jury as Lucas sat passively at the defense table.

Then, in a bizarre twist, Roberts signs up Lucas as his first client. According to an on-screen epilogue, Roberts successfully represented Lucas on appeal to reduce the very sentence that Roberts help obtain. Robert's motivation for this seeming flip-flop was not explained, but one could surmise that Roberts sought to repay Lucas' help in dismantling a larger operation (through information or testimony against co-conspirators), and more important to Roberts, clearing out the appalling corruption in the NYPD's drug enforcement unit.

This movie shows the cost of ethics to Roberts in particular, and his dogged determination to see them vindicated even at great personal cost.

American Gangster receives a B++

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