The title for this post in not a metaphore, it is in fact about the moment in the movie where the classic hymn provides the overwhelming sound during on of the most crucial moments of the film, and while American Gangster is not really the type of film with surprises, if you haven't seen the movie and don't want to ruin "the surpise" then stop reading. In American Gangster, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) is finally caught and found out by Richie Robert (Russel Crowe) and in a very cinematic moment, Washington walks out of his church doors, with wife and mother behind him, and he quickly realizes he has been caught.
During this scene, Amazing Grace is sung and spliced into the surrounding scenes. And the feeling and emotion in the scene is certainly heightened with the use of this emotional and climactic song, but there are many aspects of it that don't fit naturally.
First off, the context of the song is that it's being sung by the 1970s inner city black Harlem church. Director, Ridley Scott, definitely did not try very hard to make 70s Harlem look and feel like 70s Harlem. Rather it seemed he tried to make Harlem look and feel like other cities and times of gangster films, like Scarface and the Godfather. Other then the obvious "gangster stuff," Harlem seemed relatively tame. So, it seemed that there was a whitification of Harlem life, and instead of singing black gospel or spirituals in this sing, the popular Amazing Grace was the song that Scott and his team chose.
Second, at this point, there does not seem to be much "grace" in the film, especially considering that Frank Lucas is the protagonist. Lucas, has been at this point caught, and is no longer able to run from the one honest cop, who's not seeking a bribe, nor can he run from the disasters that are spinning out of control in his own life and business.
Is this the grace? That the law would catch up with him before any more of his life spirals out of control? Is it because it's going to be more challenging to acquire and produce "blue magic" upon the completion of the Vietnam War, that there is grace in being caught? Is conviction for Lucas also redemption?
The irony of such thoughts is hard to ask. I've been told I lack grace before, and even an understanding of it...but this is either a very mature understanding of grace as his arrest is saving him from something worse, or this song was simply selected to create an extra heightened emotional climax, as though the moment was divinely orchestrated by the hands of God to bring about God's ultimate end of taking care of Harlem's drug problem.
(side notes: Why is grace and drug movies often tied together? and I certainly think Elaine would see Mr. Frank Lucas as having grace, because you either have it or you don't... as Mr. Landis says, grace isn't something you pick up at the market)