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File:American-gangster-001 31.png
"This is my home. This is where my business is, my wife, my mother, my family. This is my country, I ain't goin' nowhere."
Frank Lucas

American Gangster is a 2007 crime film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Washington portrays Frank Lucas, a real-life gangster from late 1960s and 1970s Harlem who smuggled heroin into the United States on American service planes returning from the Vietnam War. Crowe portrays Richie Roberts, a detective attempting to bring down Lucas' drug empire.

Spoilers ahead.

Tropes used in American Gangster include:
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The real-life Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts do not look like Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, respectively.
  • Affably Evil
  • American Title
  • Anti-Villain: "The most important thing in business is honesty, integrity, hard work... family... never forgetting where we came from." Yes, you can be in the heroin-smuggling industry and still have honesty and integrity.
  • Big Fancy House: Frank buys one for his Mama.
  • Biopic
  • Book Dumb: While it's not that evident in the film, the real life Lucas was functionally illiterate. Nonetheless, he could still tell how much money there was in a stack just by weight.
  • Cassandra Truth: Leading into the finale Richie tries to start checking one of the coffins for drugs, and is stopped by just about everybody present, including his boss. Guess where the drugs were hidden?
  • Composite Character:Dominic Cattano is probably Carmine Tramunti. But his plot function is as representative of the old school Mafia slowly fading away.
  • Corrupt Cop: Everyone except Ritchie. Three quarters of New York City's Drug Enforcement Agency end up convicted by the end of the film.
  • Da Chief: Captain Lou Toback, Richie's honest superior.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Interesting take on this one. Lucas deliberately avoids the excesses of gangster life (though that's probably for practical reasons - the first and only time he dresses up like the flashy gangster stereotype, he gets noticed by Ritchie and this leads to his downfall). Also, he does his best to discourage his nephew from pursuing a criminal career. And the alternate ending makes it clear what Lucas thinks about today's gangsta culture.
  • Did Not Do Research: At one point we see Nicky Barnes sniffing either heroine or cocaine. Nicky did abuse drugs as a teen and became addicted. However, during his first stay in prison, he withdrew so bad that he swore he would never touch drugs again. Its also the reason he maintained himself for so long.
  • Don't Tell Mama: subverted, because even though Lucas never tells his mother where the family prosperity comes from, she knows. Towards the end she proves that she's not naive or stupid when she calls him out on this, and involving the rest of the family in drug trafficking.
  • Driven to Suicide: Trupo
  • Enemy Mine: At the end of the film, Frank and Ritchie cooperate to put NYC's corrupt cops in prison. In return for information, Frank's sentence is reduced by 55 years. Ritchie eventually becomes a defense attourney. His first client is Frank Lucas. A deleted scene had Ritchie picking up Lucas from jail and helping him find a place, but Scott thought it was too much of a genre shift from gangster film to buddy film.
    • And then it's humorously undone a little when they're consultants during filming and get back into their old roles as adversaries. Ritchie (paraphrased): "Lucas's having too much fun, and I want to arrest him again!"
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas
  • Evil Power Vacuum: After Bumpy's death, chaos reigns in Harlem, as it's "every gorilla for himself." Once Frank's Mafia contact stresses the importance of order, he starts stepping in more and more to fill that void.
  • Foil: Lucas is a family man with strong morals (apart from his business) and his personal life is, for the most part, pretty good. Contrast with Ritchie; despite his status as a "good cop", his domestic life falls apart and he cheats on his wife before the divorce is complete. The difference between their quality of life is made especially clear during the Thanksgiving dinner montage.
    • Richie's additional foil is Trupo, a corrupt cop who also has all the niceties he doesn't have (Shelby GT 350, clothes, house...).
  • Flashed Badge Hijack: A deleted scene has Richie punching out a cab-driver who refuses to let him take his cab so that he can follow a lead.
  • Generic Ethnic Crime Gang
  • "Get Out of Jail Free" Card: Not quite, but Frank's sentence is greatly reduced. See Enemy Mine.
  • Mood Dissonance: One sequence shows Frank having a hearty Thanksgiving dinner in his mansion with his family, and contrasts it with Ritchie's crappy excuse of a dinner and drug addicts overdosing on Frank's product.
  • Neighbourhood Friendly Gangsters: To the audience, Lucas is a dangerous criminal, but to the in-movie civilians he tries to portray himself as a modest, churchgoing family man who takes care of his neighborhood. Imitating his mentor Bumpy Johnson, Lucas even gave out free turkeys on Thanksgiving.

"I got Harlem. I took care of Harlem, so Harlem's gonna take care of me."

  • The Mafia: Frank's competitors.
  • The Mole: Frank's cousin/driver
  • Oscar Bait: The film is full of examples of this, and the talent behind it are mostly known to be Academy favorites. However, the film earned just two Oscar nominations; one was for set design, the other rather surprisingly turned out to be a Best Supporting Actress for Ruby Dee (most expected that if the film did get a nomination in this category, it would go to Carla Gugino). The screenwriter, Steven Zaillian, admitted after the film's release that it probably felt too similar to the previous year's big Oscar winner, The Departed to have any real chance of success at the awards.
  • Pragmatic Villainy
  • Straight Edge Evil: Frank Lucas. See Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!.
  • The Seventies
  • The Vietnam War / Holiday in Cambodia
  • Truth in Television: Well, it's based on Frank Lucas' life.
    • The business of smuggling drugs in coffins was disputed though.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: As were many other aspects of both Frank Lucas' and Richie Roberts' life. For example, the latter never had children, yet spends the movie in a custody battle with his ex. Meanwhile, Frank Lucas and his wife had seven children, his wife herself was arrested and convicted for involvement with Frank's drug business, and the two have been married for over 40 years--completely the opposite of what was portrayed in the film--the Lucas' are childless, his wife is aware of his business, but uninvolved, and she leaves him after his arrest.
  • Villain Protagonist: Frank Lucas is either this or a very dark Anti-Hero.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: See Neighbourhood Friendly Gangsters.