The viewer has to wait until the final minutes of the film to see Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe play a scene together in American Gangster. Fortunately for movie fans, the wait is well worthwhile.
These guys are my two favorite actors for solid reasons. I've loved good movies since I was a child, and I know a quality product when I see it--and feel it. From the gripping opening scene until the credits rolled, most of my breathing was highly truncated. Because of the actors, the story owned me.
And no one in Hollywood today owns a character the way Denzel does. I once heard renowned director Frank Capra say that the great Jimmy Stewart's gift was making the viewer believe that what was on the screen was actually happening. In our time, Denzel Washington has been touched by the same magic wand, and he humanizes the criminal Frank Lucas into a multi-layered man we can almost pull for.
Russell Crowe brings a similar intensity to his role and is completely believable as the relentless law officer Richie Roberts, who pursues Lucas for years. Crowe does fairly well with a New Jersey accent, although fuhgetaboudit--he'd never fool a local. And the film's numerous anachronisms can be distracting to the generation that remembers the life and times of the 1970s.
However, these are quibbling details. In American Gangster, director Ridley Scott sets a raw, realistic stage that effectively captures the seamy underside of metropolitan drug trafficking. In many scenes, you can almost smell the stink of the gutter.
But the actors portraying the two main characters, their lives running along parallel lines until the riveting collision of their respective destinies, are the whole show. Washington and Crowe, bravo to both of you. To quote a line Frank Lucas is fond of saying: "My man."