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American Gangster

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The film simultaneously tracks the ascension of 1970s Harlem drug kingpin Frank Lucas and narcotics cop Richie Roberts' (Russell Crowe) efforts to break NYC's heroin connection. One man loses a soul; another gains self-respect. Thugs in Borsalino hats and dirty cops (especially the one portrayed by an oily Josh Brolin) are endlessly fascinating. Crime pays -- and then it doesn't. What keeps Gangster entertaining is Denzel Washington as Lucas (all satin smooth, with lightning flashes of rage) and a handful of perfect little scenes, such as the awkward high-class lunch Lucas shares with a Mafia boss (Armand Assante). Lucas, of course, is a glorious perversion of the American dream -- a poor black kid from the Jim Crow South, who assimilates upward with savvy and ease. His downfall isn't his illegal product or his bloody hands; it's his intersection with Roberts, the squeaky-clean cop who won't cash in his dirty dream ticket, Lucas' kickbacks.

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