American Gangster Review

I ignored my own maxim of always checking out the cook before sitting down to eat when I went to the cinema without giving a thought to who directed the film I was about to watch. The film was American Gangster and the director Ridley Scott of Gladiator fame, which had I known would have forewarned me that American Gangster would be lite on facts.

The films two main characters and adversaries, Frank Lucus, [Denzel Washington] a former long time driver, bodyguard and gofer of Harlem underworld kingpin Bumpy Johnson; who after Johnson’s death goes on to become a major importer of Heroin;and Richie Roberts, [Russell Crowe] the New Jersey cop who supposedly brought Lucus down. Lucus is portrayed in the movie as Mr Super-cool, who, we are asked to believe not only comes up with the idea of importing high grade Heroin from the south east Asian golden triangle, but he himself goes into the ‘triangle’ to cut the deal.

As to the Russell Crowe character Ritchie Roberts, he could have been an out-take of the cop Crowe played in LA Confidential, accept his blind violence has been replaced with an equally absurd blind honesty. His honest streak is amplified by Ridley Scott portraying every other cop in the movie, bar Roberts and his team as being corrupt to the core, indeed the only police work these cops ever do in the film is skim and steal the money of the villains they should be out arresting.

I have no idea if this was true of the the police in 1960’s America, but if so, it does not explain how the gallant Detective Ritchie Roberts managed to survive in such a corrupt environment. For example we are asked to believe he hands in almost a million dollars in unmarked bills against the wishes of his partner; and all he suffered was a little scorn and irritation from his supposedly corrupt fellow officers. Frank Serpico had to move to Switzerland after acting in a similar incorruptible way. Yet Ridley Scott asks us to believe that in a police force that is portrayed as corrupt from top to bottom, Detective Richie gets promoted, gains his own squad and ends up an affluent lawyer. [bookmark this fact dear readers]

The most that can be said for this movie is that it is an entertaining way to spend two and a half hours. Which is a crying shame because this is a tale worth telling, and in a more political director and screen writers hands this could have been a brilliant American film. Instead as with the movie The Departed, which was about Whitey Bulger the Boston Irish gangster, which Jack Nicholson’s presence ruined, all we get with American Gangster is a vehicle for star exposure.

The real truth of the heroin that Frank Lucus imported into the USA is a far more murky tale than that of crooked cops and a Harlem drug dealer. For it centers on the CIA and corruption in the US army’s chain of command. In the whole of American Gangster there is only a single, unexplained clip which hints at the bigger picture. This is when Army spooks look on as the Heroin is loaded on to US army planes to be imported into the USA from south east Asia.

It is nonsensical to believe as the movie portrays, that a black heavy from New York, at the hight of the Vietnam war, could fly into Thailand and link up with a serving US army NCO, then travel into the Golden Triangle and negotiate a massive drugs deal, not least because the drugs cartels operating in that region during that period were all in the pay of the CIA. Lucus then on a nod and a wink arranges shipment of the narcotics into the USA courtesy of Uncle Sam.

That Frank Lucus was a narcotics importer and distributor is true, but the movie is asking us to believe that in middle age, this man who had spent his entire life up until Bumpy Johnson death as a gofer. Suddenly emerges a a Capo in his own right with the ability to outwit the Italian Mafia, CIA and US army intel, and survive. The more likely story is that Frank Lucus was approached by the CIA to front the Blue Magic drugs business. After all if we are to believe the movie Patriotism was strong with Frank Lucus. Plus the period in question was a time when many young blacks were turning to radical politics, the Black Panthers and the like. Someone in the Agency may have thought a stoned out black America was preferable to a radicalized black America demanding their democratic rights.

Two subsequent events point to the aforementioned, firstly despite having been intricately involved in one of the most important drug cartels in US history, Lucus was treated extremely leniently by the US criminal justice system. The movie even claims that Ritchie Roberts, the detective who supposedly brought him down, paid Lucus son through college and supported his family whilst he was in jail, which even the most naive person would find pretty preposterous. Although the CIA paying off an old debt would not sound so daft. It is also a fact that hardly any of the scores of serving US army personnel who must have been involved in the importation chain found themselves in court.

Secondly in the 1980s it became common knowledge that the CIA were using South and Central American cocaine cartels to finance illegal operations against the government’s of Nicaragua and Iran. At the time it was said that US army air-bases were used to import cocaine into the USA, which would be off loaded and arms intended for the contras would be reloaded and shipped out. In other words these activities look suspiciously like Frank Lucus operations in the late 1960-early 70’s, coincidence?



Filed under American gangster, CIA, corruption, drug cartel, golden triangle, Irish politics, movies, neoliberalism, smuggling, USA, US_army

8 responses to “American Gangster Review

  1. WorldbyStom

    Damn hell, I was half thinking of going to that even if only to see how well he’d recreated the 1970s. Ah well, I’ll cross it off the list…

  2. Mick Hall

    No don’t cross this movie off your list, he creates 1970s America/New York well and the sound track as one would expect is fine. It is just it could have been so much more. As I wrote it is an entertaining way to spend two and a half hours and that is more than can be said for most movies these days.
    I will give an example of Ridley overkill, the super-fly Frank Lucus, [Denzel Washington] shoots dead a brother in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded Harlem street in front of hundreds of witnesses.Yet nothing, he simply returns to his table to finish his meal.

    Then five minutes later Lucus burns a sable coat he had worn to an Ali fight, as he believes it brought the cops attention down on him. Please

  3. GodSta

    COMMENTARY: Drug Dealer Frank Lucas, Denzel and Dad

    My Father as a kid delivered groceries to the first drug kingpin “Bumpy” Johnson, who at the time, lived in the corner building on 120th street and 5th Avenue, across the street from Mount Morris Park. He use to tell me these colorful stories with admiration, about this man. Bumpy was an employee and conduit for the mafia, helping to orchestrate the distribution of heroin into Harlem and surrounding communities in the 1940’s, an epidemic that would later spread and engulf the entire country for generations to come.

    The street gangs of the 40’s would become some of the first addicts, their members would ultimately form the first ruthless drug-gangs of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Families were destroyed individual lives ruined, violence and crime across the board increased at staggering rates. In spite the gains from the Civil Rights Movement, as a community we never fully recovered from the initial impact of the flooding of drugs into our communities.

    Frank Lucas, portrayed by academy Award winner Denzel Washington in “American Gangster”, was the driver for Bumpy Johnson until his death by heart attack in 1968. By the time Mr. Lucas took power- the Harlem community had been decimated by this epidemic and the second generation of addicts already overwhelmed the streets. Like the Hip Hop culture violent movies have a tremendous impact on our children. Our young-people are continually bombarded with negative messages that unfortunately help shape and mold their character, Al Pacino’s as Scareface is still a popular image on T-Shirts.

    The moral of the story is not that the bad guy gets it in the end. Too many hopeless kids who are engaged in criminal activity, view the demise of these individuals in a fatalistic and morbidly glamorous way. Enlighten by our past history and current events we have to be careful not to glorify criminals. Mr. Lucas has the right to have his story told but as parents, mentors, big brothers and sisters, we must always monitor the messages and more important the response to the message portrayed in media.

    Dad’s discussions about Bumpy, were a small part of the rich history of the community that he shared with me. He gave me, as I did my son, Claude Brown’s definitive book on life in Harlem, “Manchild in the Promise Land”, when I was a teenager. He also talked about Malcolm X and Dr. King, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. Together we watched, Gil Noble’s informative program “Like It Is”. My love of history and current events came from my dads talks about the Bumpy Johnson’s as well as the Dr. King’s of this world. He taught me to discern the messages that would bombarded me in my life-time. He knew then that no matter what, there would always be plenty of people like Bumpy Johnson and Frank Lucas around to share theirs.



  4. Anonymous

    How come the reviewers et al are not talking about the military/CIA connection? This is a heart breaking, cynicism-making part of the film, which was not even mentioned (let alone discussed) in any of the half dozen reviews I read before seeing the film. i hate to say – is the media neglient YET AGAIN in reporting cover ups from the CIA/FBI sectors?

  5. Mick Hall


    I could not agree with you more, it was the reason why I said this movie could have been so much more. I wonder if the makers of this film were leaned on by someone in the US government as at one stage in the film they hint at either the CIA or US army Intel being aware of how the drugs were being imported into the US, then this is not followed up.

    The reasoning of the film producers would probably been along the lines of with US troops dying in Iraq, now is not the time to blacken the US army etc.

    Thanks for you comment.

  6. Mick Hall


    Sorry I meant to add above the same goes for the reviewers.


  7. Anonymous

    Oh my God…there are actually (a few) people on the planet with brains.

    YES, the film “American Gangster” is a CIA cover up IN PLAIN SIGHT.

    Gary Webb exposed evidence of the CIA intentionally preying upon African-Americans. Webb was fired. Maxine Waters postured but DID NOTHING. The story went cold. Webb dies under mysterious circumstances …and now this!

    “The CIA didn’t push drugs and pipeline them into the black community….it was niggers! We were the ones defending the African-Americans.”

    A calculated, evil 180 degree propaganda spin disguised as “entertainment”.

    I’m SO glad you saw through it!

  8. TheTruthHurts

    Yeah Anonymous what happened to Gary in San Diego was quite suspicious and unfortunate. I just saw this movie and am appalled at the many inaccuracies.

    Frank Lucas was IMO started out a petty thug just like the other Black Mafia types in Philly. Yes ever since Lucky Luciano during WW2 there has been an unholy alliance between the mob and the CIA. Undoubtedly Frank was approached by someone in the NY mob with close CIA ties.

    In the movie when Frank (Denzel) went to Bangkok Thailand and met with a CHINESE GENERAL (Ric Young) was laughable!!! The PRC was the enemy during the VNW. Lucas probably met with a Laotian (HMONG) war lord who had intimate connections with the CIA’s illegal/immoral narcotics ‘Air America’ program. Does anyone think that the Hmong leader didn’t have clearance from his CIA handlers to deal with Lucas?

    Also the US G.I. body transport operation was NOT Lucas’ idea nor his operation. This operation was already ongoing when Lucas was introduced. This Ridley Scott version is just a sneaky revisionist version orchestrated by you-know-who…

    If you want the REAL truth please dial into ex-DEA agent Mike Levine of
    Go to his website and click on ARCHIVE. Then click on AMERICAN GANGSTER. Its Realmeadia so you will need RealPlayer.

    Mike was PART of this awful operation in NY and was appalled at the lies in this movie too! Frank Lucas (and crew) is lying to Ridley Scott about a lot of things including the body bag operation. That was a pre-existing CIA operation. Frank’s involvement with mobsters was very real, however! Gary Web’s awful demise was IMHO also related to the mob.

    Actual Audio:


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