On this date in 2007, Ridley Scott’s fictionalized biographical crime film American Gangster was released in the United States and Canada, pairing Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe for the first time since their appearances in the 1995 Virtuosity. An adaptation of Mark Jacobson’s New York magazine story, The Return of Superfly, telling the story of the rise and fall of heroin kingpin Frank Lucas during the 1970’s, the screenplay was written by Oscar-winner Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List).
Also starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Ted Levine, John Ortiz, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Armand Assante, RZA, Common, Idris Elba and veteran actress Ruby Dee (who received a best-supporting-actress Academy Award nomination), the movie met with mostly critical acclaim, earning over $266 million at the worldwide box office.
IMDB described American Gangster as “In 1970s America, a detective works to bring down the drug empire of Frank Lucas, a heroin kingpin from Manhattan, who is smuggling the drug into the country from the Far East.”
Many of the real-life individuals, among them Lucas and Roberts, were critical of the creative licenses taken throughout the storyline. While Frank Lucas was amazed by Washington’s performance, he confessed that only a tiny bit of it was accurate. Lucas’ own biographer called the movie “a myth.” Roberts was also critical as he was shown in a custody battle, despite never having had a child. Former U.S. DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) agents even filed a lawsuit against Universal, claiming defamation of character; the lawsuit was dismissed as it was never shown one specific agent was defamed, but the judge did admit the film had made numerous inaccuracies in its’ claims (one being that Lucas’ collaboration with law enforcement led to the arrest and convictions of many corrupt agents).
Despite the complaints, American Gangster received generally positive reviews and nominations ranging from the Oscars to the Screen Actors Guild and the BAFTAs.