Memorable, crazy movie
While it is a pity that the story wasn't told with more visual finesse, this is trivial compared to our real-world problems. It takes a good movie to put that into perspective.
This is a coming of age storyline that you've seen in one form or another for decades. It takes a truly unique voice to make yet another one worth watching.
Apart from Denzel Washington all actors are as bad as it could get. I have never seen such a bad cast.
So we learn that Frank Lucas (D. Washington) deals in heroin tat ruins lives and kills people, preys on the poor and corrupts law and order. Doesn't stop Ridley Scott from insisting that we identify with Frank Lucas and eventually warm to him for cooperating with the Feds to identify bent cops. The penultimate scene has him laughing fondly with Russell Crowe, the honest cop who hunted him down - Crowe offers him a celebratory drink. Scott allows Washington's seductive, reassuring grin to smile along with him, to insist on our sympathy. Laced with racist undertones (the white hero, Russell Crowe, finally concedes black Washington's redemption; not a single member of Frank Lucas's family of black brothers and cousins hesitates to join his murderous business with glee - black families stick together). Meanwhile, young people continue to die in squalor and despair on the streets - with plenty of gratuitous close-ups of real needles pushing into real flesh. The film is, at best, morally incoherent - at worst, it is a crude apology for wealth, private enterprise, and a sneaking admiration for buccaneering gangsters so redolent of Coppola and, in a more twisted way, Scorcese.
In the 1960s Frank Lucas worked as a driver 'Bumpy' Johnson; when Bumpy dies Frank takes over his New York drugs empire. It is a time when heroin is expensive and low grade but Frank decides to do something about that
he cuts out the various middlemen and buys directly from a producer in South East Asia and uses contacts in the US Military to fly the drugs from war-torn Vietnam to the States. Soon his high grade, low price 'Blue Magic' heroin his the streets of New York and nearby New Jersey. Meanwhile Richie Roberts, a cop who has lost the trust of his corrupt colleagues after handing in a million dollars of drug money he found rather than stealing it, is asked to head a new anti-drug task force. At first Frank isn't even on their radar; he is African American and everybody 'knows' the drugs trade is run by the Mafia. As the years pass Frank comes to dominate the local drugs trade and inevitable finds himself in the sights of Richie, who wants to arrest him, and corrupt cops, who want a slice of the action.This is a really solid crime drama in a similar vein to films like 'The French Connection'. The film impressively captures the feel of the late '60s and early '70s. There is no question that Frank is a villain but even though we see that he is a murderer and has no moral problems with ruining more lives with heroin he is likable. Denzel Washington really impresses in the roll. Russell Crowe contrasts nicely as Richie Roberts, an honest cop who is determined to get his man even if that means making enemies. The rest of the cast, which includes plenty of fine actors, does a fine job too. At two and a half hours the film certainly isn't short but I was never bored. I liked how the passing of time was marked by the progress of the Vietnam War; something which also plays a key role in Frank's drug supply. Overall this is an impressive crime thriller that is definitely worth watching if you are a fan of the genre.
Disclaimer: if you have a fear of needles, avoid this movie. I don't believe I do, like you could show me a needle and I'll be OK, but if I see that needle in someone's arm, I come close to having a severe panic attack. So of course, having never seen this movie before, I didn't know it would show people shooting up heroin. After the second scene of people doing this, I almost turned the movie off, but I persevered. I'd also like to state that I've never walked out of a movie, and I've been watching them for 17 years. The main reason I decided to stick with this, is because I could tell that there was a good story here. I mean, you have Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, and it's directed by Ridley Scott. How could that be bad? Thankfully, I was right. The acting is well done, not either man's best performance, but they do a great job. You get a great look into the drug trade at the time and how people were able to set up empires on the addictions of others. The characters are easy to connect with, even the drug kingpins are somehow likable. If you can stomach the needles and injections, you'll probably like this movie. It's not as good as "Goodfellas" or "Casino" to me, but I'd say it's at most in the "Top 10 Mob Movies I've Seen".