American Gangster

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
American Gangster Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Violent, drug-fueled drama isn't for kids.
  • R
  • 2007
  • 157 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 14 reviews

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 21 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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.

What 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."

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBanana wannna September 28, 2019

Good but very violent crime drama

This is a movie worth wacthing but contains stron violence and very hard drug use plus stron laungage.Best for adults only
Adult Written bylemonlover July 19, 2012

Graphic violence and sexual activity along with drugs and language make the film unsuitable for any kids.

The mvoie has uses of f**k, n***a, s**t, c**t, d**n, and more. Very graphic film. Explicit sex is in this film, along with the drug market.
Teen, 15 years old Written byGrizzles June 30, 2019

Worth a watch, definitely drug-fuelled and not for the faint-hearted.

Typical gangster activities such as hard drug use, references and dealing. Gang violence involving guns, one where a man has petrol poured over him and is lit o... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byaskrishna April 20, 2019

It’s too long and boring.

I recently saw this and it’s the scenes in this movie are either boring or disturbing. This definitely ain’t no kids film, not even a teen’s pick. But I don’t t... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids 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

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