American Gangster has been added to Netflix
"Absorbing, exciting and undeniably entertaining."
In an era of instant celebrities, overnight stars and disposable "legends," it's reassuring to see that there are still some actors that truly define what it means to be a film icon.
Denzel Washington is an icon.
Arguably the greatest compliment that you can pay an actor is that they're always consistent and in Washington's case, he always delivers.
Think about it. Have you ever seen a really terrible Denzel Washington performance? Hell, even in an "average" film, the Oscar-winner has that rare gift of being able to elevate the material.
Without Washington in the lead role, it's very likely that films like Fallen, The Bone Collector, John Q, Flight, Deja Vu and The Equalizer would have been consigned to the category of two-star films, but his presence just makes them better.
This being said, there's no denying the fact that when Denzel is in a great film, very few actors can match his intensity, charisma, and talent.
Take a look at Training Day, Glory, Malcolm X, and Man On Fire for proof of this. To paraphrase his own iconic quote, "I guarantee" that you'll enjoy those films.
In many ways, American Gangster is a pretty odd film because despite the fact that it's a bit of a critical darling - 80% on Rotten Tomatoes and 76% on Metacritic - Ridley Scott's gangster epic still isn't mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Goodfellas, The Godfather, Scarface or The Untouchables.
It's a very good film, but you just can't shake the feeling that it could have been excellent.
Granted, very few films will ever match the standard of those aforementioned films but ten years since being released, American Gangster has acquired a cult-status and it's largely due to Washington's charismatic and intimidating performance.
In case you haven't seen it, the film is set in 1970s America and tells the story of Frank Lucas, a heroin kingpin from Manhattan who is smuggling the drug into the country from the Far East.
As a child, nobody used to notice Frank Lucas because he was imply known as the quiet driver to one of the inner city's leading crime bosses. But when his boss suddenly dies, Frank exploits the opening in the power structure to build his own empire and create his own version of the American Dream.
Through ingenuity and a strict business ethic, he comes to rule the inner-city drug trade, flooding the streets with a purer product at a better price. Lucas outplays all of the leading crime syndicates and becomes not only one of the city's mainline corrupters, but part of its circle of legit civic superstars.
Frank's world begins to unravel though when Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) starts to investigate. What's interesting is the fact that both Lucas and Roberts share a rigorous ethical code that sets them apart from their own colleagues, making them lone figures on opposite sides of the law.
The destinies of these two men will become intertwined as they approach a confrontation where only one of them can come out on top.
With a TV show on the way, it's clear that American Gangster is still loved by film fans. Denzel Washington's performance is a large reason why.
Here's what the critics said:
Variety - "Washington's steely grip on his impersonation of Frank Lucas holds the film together."
Wall Street Journal - "The better it gets -- and the drama grows in power over its quasi-epic course of 157 minutes -- the more it brings to mind the truly great gangster films of American movie history."
Entertainment Weekly - "American Gangster is meticulous and detailed, a drug-world epic that holds you from moment to moment, immersing you in the intricate and sleazy logistics of crime."
NY Daily News - "This is Washington's movie as much as it is Lucas' story, and he is as entertainingly evil here as in his Oscar-winning performance as a bad cop in Training Day."
American Gangster is available to watch on Netflix from Wednesday 17 April
Clip via Movieclips Classic Trailers