Skip to main content

Review: American Gangster

Last weekend my mother and I went to see American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. We made the mistake of going to see it at the theatres at Garden State Plaza, which is a HUGE mall in Northern New Jersey. I've been there before, during the day on a weekday and late at night for an after-store hours movie, but I've never gone on a Saturday at what was apparently the start of the shopping season. It was a zoo, an absolute zoo. But, nevertheless, we made it to the movie, a packed early afternoon showing.

The film is really excellent. I try never to give away major plot points in my reviews, but if you don't want any details, it's probably best to stop reading now. Washington and Crowe are both excellent actors. They're such personalities that they never seem to completely disappear into their parts, but maybe that's something that can't be helped giving their celebrity status. But Washington in particular has such a charisma about him that it is hard to dislike him in any role, whether he plays the 'good guy' or the 'bad guy'.

That charisma is exactly what the film's subject has: Frank Lucas, huge figure in the drug industry in Harlem in the 1970s. Throughout the movie, we see again and again the repugnant, violent, unethical behavior that Lucas displays. And yet, you can't help but be rooting for him a bit. After seeing the movie, I read several interviews and articles about Lucas, and this likability seems to be a common theme - judges who sentenced him, cops who pursued him, journalists who wrote about him - they all seem to end up liking Lucas. Lucas is never particularly contrite about his actions. In fact, he's probably best described as a little wistful about his glory days. He has this charisma.

Charisma is an interesting quality, characteristic, that some people seem to possess, regardless of their moral standing. You don't have to be a 'good' person to be charismatic. Thinking about charisma got me thinking about church leadership and charisma. Are growing churches led by leaders with a certain amount of charisma? I guess that's pretty off topic to the movie review, but my mind always seems to go there! Jesus certainly had a quality of charisma that shines even through texts 2000 years old. He had more than charisma, but he had that too. Have you ever known people you just loved being around, other qualities aside?

The film isn't a 'message' movie - it doesn't paint exact pictures for you of conclusions you should draw, but there are certainly subtle points made - underlying commentary on drugs and their impact, issues of race and racism, the Vietnam war and military personnel. Frank Lucas flew under the radar of law enforcement for so long because no one believed a black man could be in his position of power - do you cheer on the 'achievement' of Lucas, breaking racial barriers of the illegal variety? Questions come up about the military and drug use, and some characters in the movie don't want questions to be asked because of how bad it will make things look, regardless of how things are. These are all quiet themes in the storyline.


Jeff Nelson said…
In your description of Lucas' likability, I was reminded of the article that the movie is based on, where Lucas repeats, "People like the f*ck out of me." And the article's author, Mark Jacobson, admits it!

Look forward to seeing this. Jacobson's book is excellent...not just that article, but the whole thing.

Popular posts from this blog

Sermon for Second Sunday in Advent, "Peace: All Is Calm, All Is Bright," Isaiah 11:1-10, Mark 13:24-37

Sermon 12/3/17 Mark 13:24-37, Isaiah 11:1-10 Peace: All Is Calm, All Is Bright             “Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright. Round yon’ virgin mother and child. Holy infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.”             This week, I read news stories about North Korea testing a missile that perhaps could reach across the whole of the United States.             This week, I spoke with a colleague in ministry who had, like all churches in our conference, received from our church insurance company information about how to respond in an active shooter situation. She was trying to figure out how to respond to anxious parishioners and yet not get caught up in spending all of their ministry time on creating safety plans.             This week, we’ve continued to hear stories from people who have experienced sexual assault and harassment, as the actions, sometimes over decades, of men in positions of power have been

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent, "Hope: A Thrill of Hope," Mark 1:1-8

Sermon 11/26/17 Mark 1:1-8 Hope: A Thrill of Hope             Are you a pessimist or an optimist? Is the glass of life half empty, or half full? My mom and I have gone back and forth about this a bit over the years. She’s wildly optimistic about most things, and sometimes I would say her optimism, her hopefulness borders on the irrational. If the weather forecast says there’s a 70% chance of a snowstorm coming, my mom will focus very seriously on that 30% chance that it is going to be a nice day after all. I, meanwhile, will begin adjusting my travel plans and making a backup plan for the day. My mom says I’m a pessimist, but I would argue that I’m simply a realist , trying to prepare for the thing that is most likely to happen, whether I like that thing or not. My mom, however, says she doesn’t want to be disappointed twice, both by thinking something bad is going to happen, and then by having the bad thing actually happen. She’d rather be hopeful, and enjoy her state of

Sermon, "Invitational: Deep Waters," Luke 5:1-11

Sermon 1/31/16 Luke 5:1-11 Invitational: Deep Waters                         I’m fascinated by the fact that for all that we know, as much as we have discovered, for all of the world we humans feel like we have conquered, there are still so many that things that we don’t know and can’t control, so much that we are learning yet, every day. Even today, every year, scientists discover entirely new species of plants and animals. And one part of our world that is rich in things yet-to-be-discovered is in the mysterious fathoms below – the deep, deepest waters of the ocean. In 2015, for example, scientists discovered this Ceratioid anglerfish that lives in the nicknamed “midnight zone” of the ocean. It doesn’t look like other anglerfish – one news article described it as looking like a “rotting old shoe with spikes, a scraggly mustache and a big mouth with bad teeth. And it has a long, angular fishing pole-looking thing growing out of its head.” [1] Or there’s Greedo, named after