Denzel Washington R-Rated True Crime On Max Is A Mobster Experience 

By Shanna Mathews-Mendez | Published

I saw American Gangster in the theater when it first came out in 2007. How could I not? It has two of my favorite actors — Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Since that time, I’ve watched the film at least a dozen times, and I could watch it again today. Now, if you’re hoping to catch it, it’s streaming on Max only until the end of July. 

The Triumph Of American Gangster

American Gangster showcases the talents of Washington and Crowe in ways few other films do. They also work incredibly well together on screen despite the fact that they only share the last 20 minutes of screen time. The story of how this film came together over multiple obstacles, finally landing with Ridley Scott as director, Washington as New York City crime boss, and Crowe as the detective who finally put him away. Richie Roberts is almost as gangster as the movie itself, but that’s another story for another time. 

Two Men That Aren’t Good Or Bad

The movie American Gangster is loosely based on the lives of Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, and what makes this film so great, besides the epic acting and directing, of course, is that it spends two hours juxtaposing two men and making the audience rethink all of our preconceived notions about cops and criminals.

Richie, a good cop, is not necessarily a good person. He’s not a great dad, a terrible husband, and a serial womanizer, but he’s got a solid moral compass when it comes to the law.

Frank, a hardened criminal, has strong business ethics, a devotion to his wife, and extreme loyalty when it comes to his family, but he fills the streets with heroin. 

The Rise Of Blue Magic

Denzel Washington

It’s a bit of a conundrum to say the least. American Gangster opens up with Frank at the funeral of his mentor, Bumpy, a Harlem mob boss. He’s already being praised and threatened by the community as the next in line. Frank takes it all in stride and rises quickly to a prominent position as an ethical drug dealer who provides a reliable heroin product, “Blue Magic.”

Meanwhile, we meet Richie, a detective from Newark, New Jersey, who’s been outcast by his fellow cops for turning in stolen money. His colleagues apparently think he should have kept the money, and now they consider him a rat. Because of this reputation, he’s drafted to lead a drug task force to find the people responsible for Blue Magic.  

Corruption On Every Side

The true American gangster, Frank’s business thrives as he has a cousin smuggling heroin straight from Vietnam, and Richie and his team spin in circles trying to figure out who is running this drug ring.

Frank brings his brothers and nephews into the business to run legitimate businesses as fronts for the drug money, and he meets the woman who will become his wife and mother of his children, Eva. While at a boxing match one night, Frank wears a mink coat gifted to him by Eva for Christmas, and he catches the eye of a corrupt NYPD detective, Nick Trupo (Josh Brolin). 

Streaming On Max


The audience watches on as our American gangster rises to greater heights, having to bribe Nick and his crew, secure safety from fellow mobsters, and expand his business to the greater Tri-State area. We also see Richie in a custody battle for his kid, and we watch him narrow down suspects until he finally lands on Frank. Sadly, no one believes a Black man could be orchestrating this large level of success in the drug scene. 

Perhaps the greatest moment, among many great moments, is when Richie finally catches up to Frank and the two work both against each other and together. This is not a spoiler, as the story is a well-known one.

Watching Washington and Crowe share the screen is real cinematic magic. I recommend you watch American Gangster on Max before it disappears.