American Gangster



Violent, drug-fueled drama isn't for kids.
  • Review Date: February 18, 2008
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2007
  • Running Time: 157 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Gangsters are cruel, cocky, and greedy; cops are earnest and honest to a fault. Their run-ins result in violence and, eventually, collaboration.


Several scenes show shooting, fighting, and tense stand-offs between men wielding large guns. An early scene shows the funeral of gangster's mentor, followed by vows of aggression against rivals. Clips of the Vietnam War appear on background TVs. Cops raid drug locations, with guns drawn and used. A man is thrown down the stairs, with bloody results. Following a shooting, there's blood on the floor and walls. Frank coldly shoots a man on the street (hole in head visible). Flashback shows Frank shooting someone while saying he's a "gentleman." Frank beats a man at a party in his home, then blows up over the blood on his white carpet. Skeet shooting; brief shots of a boxing match.


Prostitutes stroll New York streets. Dancers in a Bangkok bar show cleavage and sexy behavior. Women's naked breasts are visible as they work to process drugs. Brief, rowdy sex scene in a kitchen; a couple of scenes show kissing (Richie with a stewardess). Men appear in bars and clubs with multiple girlfriends and sex workers who show cleavage in tight outfits. Frank and Eva kiss passionately, though the act is mostly covered up by her long hair. Frank is massaged by a woman naked from the waist up.


Much profanity, including nearly 100 uses of "f--k" (some with "mother"), as well as plenty of uses of "s--t," "ass," "damn," and "hell." Also several uses of the "N" word -- sometimes between friends, other times used in a derogatory way.


Coca-Cola, Ford Mustang.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Pervasive drugs (opium, heroin, pills, marijuana, cocaine) and drinking. Nixon appears on TV, denouncing "drug abuse." Drinking in bars (some in Southeast Asia, where the atmosphere is decidedly seedy), at parties, on the streets, and in hotel rooms. Frequent cigarette and cigar smoking (reflecting the 1970s setting). Images of heroin transportation (by sacks and bricks), production, and use; needles shown on tables and in arms (a bloody needle in one shot); cocaine and heroin snorting.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this based-on-a-true story drama about a brutal 1970s gangster isn't for kids. He commits extremely violent acts, which are depicted explicitly (often with guns) and accompanied by blood, wounds, and groaning. And since the plot focuses on heroin smuggling and dealing, there are many shots of junkies and drug use (including needles in arms, cocaine being snorted, and more). Sexual content includes scenes with prostitutes, kissing, bare breasts, and cleavage, and there's plenty of language, including almost 100 uses of "f--k."

What's the story?

Based on a true story and set in the mid-70s, AMERICAN GANGSTER centers on NYC heroin kingpin Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), an upright-to-a-fault detective intent on putting the ruthless gangster behind bars. Frank and Richie's relationship is complicated throughout the film; they're opposite but also linked. Both their self-images are grand: Frank rules NYC's drug underworld, and Richie turns in $1 million worth of drug money rather than keep it for himself. But while Frank surrounds himself with devoted family members, Richie is alone, rejected by his wife (Carla Gugino) and his fellow cops, who call him out as a "boy scout." Ambitious and politically astute, Frank sees his success as a representation of black progress. Richie's path is less sensational, more movie-style earnest. He and his hardworking undercover crew discover Frank's business precisely because Richie isn't as racist as his superiors, who don't believe that a black man could outscore the Italian mafia at their own game.

Is it any good?


The problem at the center of Ridley Scott's film is that as much as the movie loves Frank's intelligence and charisma, it must also condemn his brutality and criminality. The movie's solution is typical: It pits Frank against worse villains and puts him on a parallel track with a familiar hero.

Still, as the film scrambles to its end (the last half hour moves very quickly), the two develop a mutual respect. In part, this is a function of Richie's liberal bent. He'll not only arrest a black man, he'll also work with him ... to build cases against a lot of other bad guys. And so they share a sort of moral code after all, premised on their recognition of racial equality. As corny as this relationship may be, it returns again to the movie's central problem: It loves Frank and has to hate him.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about whether the movie glamorizes criminal behavior. How is Frank both villainous and attractive? How does the film compare and contrast him to Richie, who's upright on the job but not a good husband? Families can also discuss the fact that the movie is based on a true story. How accurate do you think it is? Why do filmmakers sometimes tweak the facts when they're making biopics or movies based on actual events?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 1, 2007
DVD release date:February 19, 2008
Cast:Chiwetel Ejiofor, Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe
Director:Ridley Scott
Studio:Universal Pictures
Run time:157 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:violence, pervasive drug conviolence, pervasive drug content and language, nudity and sexuality.

This review of American Gangster was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Kid, 12 years old April 9, 2008


this movie was good just take out all the f- words and the drugs and nudity. the movie was good, well it did have some kind of historical happenings like the military helping drug dealers get "coke" AKA drugs. but is was OK!!
Adult Written byClearlyInappropriate July 10, 2011


What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Adult Written by4Spice September 6, 2010

good gangster movie

this movie is a one time see movie but it is a good movie 16 and over foe violence lots of nudity and language
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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