Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day's work for dispatcher Walter Garber into a face-off with the mastermind behind the crime.
Following the death of his employer and mentor, Bumpy Johnson, Frank Lucas establishes himself as the number one importer of heroin in the Harlem district of Manhattan. He does so by buying heroin directly from the source in South East Asia and he comes up with a unique way of importing the drugs into the United States. As a result, his product is superior to what is currently available on the street and his prices are lower. His alliance with the New York Mafia ensures his position. It is also the story of a dedicated and honest policeman, Richie Roberts, who heads up a joint narcotics task force with the Federal government. Based on a true story. Written by
A great homage to the American cinema of the seventies and a paradoxical appraisal of American black culture
By the time The French Connection hit the screens in the early seventies, blaxploitation movie was at its peak. At the same time, as this movie implies, a black drug dealer, Frank Lucas, was making a fortune. This movie is, in more than one ways, a tribute to the amazing American movie era of the seventies and a recognition of the situation of American black people in the same period when they were strong enough to fight for their rights but still had no place in the movies to make their point. Frank Lucas is a character who, by completely separating himself from the Italian Mafia and going directly to the source, manages to build a drug empire around Harlem. And who else to see the law is respected but the good old NYPD, only the drug squad is over its head in corruption and abuse. It's up to one guy (Russell Crowe) to set the record straight, make sure the streets are clean, and, what's more important, make sure the police is clean.
This is essentially the whole plot, there are many twists and subplots that keep everything going and give the characters depth. It's true that most of this is not original. The references to The French Connection are explicit in the plot, camera work (see the dynamics that brought Friedkin's movie its well-deserved fame), characters etc. But I think that the critics who said the movie was unoriginal are missing the point. Given that the whole thing starts from the premise of a true story it was only natural that nothing would be "original". But originality can also mean the way a story is told, and I can hardly believe that this amazing package of a story was delivered by Ridley Scott. Everything is very well balanced, the movie may seem baffling at times but nothing is left to chance and every shot in this long movie has a point to make. The dialogues are very well-written and seem quite natural. The "don't look at the camera in order to appear life-like" strategy that backfired in movies such as United 93 works perfectly here. Long continuous shots (sometimes filmed with a hand-held camera) are alternated with montages giving the movie a lot of spunk; the overall editing is very good. The music could have been better but I think the reality effect this movie is trying to produce is enhanced by a more discrete soundtrack. The acting is fine, Denzel is top notch and Crowe is much more refined in his acting than the 1997 LA Confidential cop.
I think that this movie tries, and succeeds, in being an homage to American cinema of the seventies and at the same time making a point about the black community (which was the subject of abuse in The French Connection). By choosing what is regarded as a black icon of Hollywood to play the part of the paradoxically progressive Frank Lucas, Hollywood is finally beginning to learn to be politically correct without rubbing your face into it. The movie clearly shows that drugs were the only solution for a discriminated against person living in a country that was fighting an absurd war. It also clearly shows the overwhelming corruption of the system and the consequences of abuse of power when being an American gangster was more honorable than being an American "cop". Great job for Ridley Scott, I wouldn't have put my money on it but it all worked out in the end...!
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