Generally favorable reviews - based on 38 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 35 out of 38
  2. Negative: 0 out of 38
  1. 100
    Denzel Washington dazzles in his best screen performance to date as Frank Lucas.
  2. 100
    This is an engrossing story, told smoothly and well, and Russell Crowe's contribution is enormous.
  3. It has the aspirations of an epic of crime and punishment, a superb feel for time and milieu, and an almost subliminal feel for myth.
  4. Finely made and richly satisfying film.
  5. 89
    Crowe has rarely been better, and the same goes for director Scott, who parallels and then dovetails Lucas and Roberts' stories with sublime, gritty precision, working up to a magnificent "Godfather III"-style crosscutting sequence that electrifies an already explosive tale.
  6. 88
    Call it the black "Scarface" or "the Harlem Godfather" or just one hell of an exciting movie.
  7. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    The movie, based on a true story, takes surprising twists and turns right up to its chilling ending and is probably the best gangster crime drama of the year.
  8. 88
    What American Gangster does have -- what makes it such a commanding, exhilarating movie -- is a consummate love and understanding of story.
  9. 83
    Only Washington stands out; he's charming, intense, and charismatic as ever.
  10. A riveting piece of movie storytelling, mounted with a genuinely epic flair, shot and edited in a no-nonsense, classic style.
  11. 83
    This impressive film feels more like a display, if an often dazzling one, than a genuine experience.
  12. It's workmanlike and engrossing, but what sticks in the mind are Frank and Richie, not what anybody does.
  13. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Absorbing, exciting at times and undeniably entertaining, and is poised to be a major commercial hit. But great it's not.
  14. 80
    The pace of the movie is rapid, almost hectic, the touch glancing. Until the confrontation between Frank and Richie at the end, nothing stays on the screen for long, although Scott, working in the street, or in clubs and at parties, packs as much as he can into the corners of shots, and shapes even the most casual scenes decisively.
  15. 80
    As archetypal as its title, Ridley Scott's would-be epic aspires to enshrine Harlem dope king Frank Lucas in Hollywood heaven, heir to Scarface and the Godfather. Or, as suggested by the Mark Jacobson article on Lucas that inspired the movie, a real-life Superfly.
  16. In the end, though, the success of American Gangster doesn't flow from the originality of its ideas, or its bid for epic status, as much as from its craftsmanship and confident professionalism. It's a great big gangster film, and a good one.
  17. Reviewed by: Richard Schickel
    I don't think it attains the Godfather level -- it lacks dark passion and grand-scale irony -- but it is an intelligent, well-made and seductive movie.
  18. 75
    Like in "Training Day" and "Malcolm X," where he portrayed less than perfect individuals, Washington rules the screen. His portrayal is one of many things that elevates this film to the level of being consistently entertaining and occasionally compelling.
  19. Meticulous and detailed, a drug-world epic that holds you from moment to moment, immersing you in the intricate and sleazy logistics of crime. Yet the movie isn't quite enthralling; it's more like the ghost version of a '70s classic.
  20. Often best around the edges. Without making a big deal about it, Scott reveals how the Mafia, while putting up a businesslike front, deplored the incursion of black gangsters into the drug trade.
  21. 75
    Its vivid sense of place and time make it compulsively watchable, even at a running time of two and a half hours.
  22. It’s a big, juicy 1970s period piece, one foot in real life, the other in the movies, the preferred stance of many Hollywood crime sagas.
  23. As an epic, American Gangster doesn't cut it. The reputations of Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather," Brian De Palma's "Scarface," Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" or Michael Mann's "Heat" are safe. At best, American Gangster is no better than a workmanlike imitation of its betters.
  24. It lacks momentum, and thus the propulsion required to rocket it into the movie mythosphere.
  25. Ridley Scott gives it the grand treatment, 157 minutes worth, but in the end, it doesn't stack up as the portrait of an era (the 1970s, in this case) or an important tale of a criminal mastermind.
  26. For all the sprawl, American Gangster feels secondhand. It’s like "Scarface" drained of blood, at arm’s length from the culture that spawned it.
  27. Reviewed by: Dana Stevens
    The movie is never quite pop enough to get audiences hooting and hollering and quoting favorite lines, nor smart enough to inspire passionate post-movie debate. Scene by scene, the film is unassailably well-crafted. But there's something oddly dull, even respectable, about Scott's adherence to the rules of gangster-film grammar.
  28. Greatness hovers just outside American Gangster, knocking, angling to be let in.
  29. 70
    With one of these two alpha males anchoring nearly every scene, Scott really can't go wrong, but the lead characters are pretty thin, a fact highlighted by generic subplots.
  30. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    There's a great story here, but it feels like American Gangster hasn't been mined for all its riches.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 316 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 89 out of 117
  2. Negative: 13 out of 117
  1. KalenC.
    Nov 6, 2007
    This American classic crime film was very well executed. From scene to scene I was in the edge of my seat. The violence involved in the plot This American classic crime film was very well executed. From scene to scene I was in the edge of my seat. The violence involved in the plot of the story took me by surprise, other than that the violence portrayed in the film was up to par. To my understanding, most of the scenes in the movie were based on true events. In my opinion, any film that is based on a true story makes the movie experience more entertaining. As always, Denzel Washington played the role of an American gangster to perfection. Even though, he plays similar roles in other movies he did a superb job. Full Review »
  2. Hughie
    Nov 5, 2007
    Nothing all that special. Great actors in an ok film.
  3. Jan 22, 2014
    The ultimate 21st century gangster picture, not as seemingly good as 2006's The Departed, American Gangster plunges into the realm of harshThe ultimate 21st century gangster picture, not as seemingly good as 2006's The Departed, American Gangster plunges into the realm of harsh Harlem as daunting as ever. It's driven by a great performance by Denzel Washington in an unbelievably outstanding motion picture. The director Ridley Scott swings together a subject and narrative that is so strong and eminent, you won't know whats coming or what may happen next. Especially being based on a true story, to authenticate a story and make it feel like true cinema without reminding yourself of history and just drawing out the vision is amazing. This movie sky rockets and something that you cannot miss. Full Review »