Sunday, November 04, 2007

Black and White in American Gangster

"...what makes him interesting to me is he lives in a world of black and white, right and wrong, and certainly not in the world of relative morality."

That's what I said last week about Casey Affleck's character in Gone Baby Gone, and yet that same line could apply to Russel Crowe's character in American Gangster.

An early scene in American Gangster shows Russell Crowe and his police partner finding a million unmarked dollars, and despite the obvious corruption among the New Jersey police force, Crowe, a man of black and white, right and wrong turns in the money, which results in his isolation and contempt from the other police officers, but also leads to a unique opportunity to run a newly formed narcotics team.

My favorite part of this film is the way it handles and opens up questions about these issues of morality. I think that many people find themselves at time justifying what is right and what is wrong. And our justification of right and wrong is so common.
Yet I think the portrayal of Richie Robert's character (in terms of his police work and ethics) is very noble. Living on principles of right and wrong in his police work allows him to in time make a significant difference. I think that relativistic thinking tends to deal far more with short term payoff.

Most of the characters in this movie pay a penalty for the relativistic thinking. This includes Harlem Gangster Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), who sees nothing wrong with the crime and distribution of drugs...his thought process, if he's not doing it someone else is. Grandma Lucas (Ruby Dee) ignores and turns a blind eye to what's happening, yet reaps the financial benefit, but watches her children's lives destroyed. Various cops and city officials take short term payoffs and bribes, but for many of them it explodes in their face.

Granted these "reap what you sow principles" do not all surface instantly, but I don't think they usually do. Even if you can justify doing what is wrong, it doesn't stop it from being wrong.


ttm said...

I just saw this film. I was hoping that at the end of the film we'd see the "good guy", Richie Roberts, playing catch with his son evidencing some earthly reward for having made the right choices.

We stayed through the credits (and they went on and on) just to see if there was a surprise at the end. (There was, but it wasn't the scene I was hoping for.)

Great film. I'm not usually the "action film" type, but I enjoyed this one.

L said...

I saw the film today. I couldn't believe that Richie arrested Frank, prosecuted him and defended him.

Though since it was based on the true story, I'm sure that was historically accurate.

I enjoyed the film.

RC said...

@ttm, i'm glad we didn't see roberts playing catch with his son...i felt like his honesty even carried over into his ability to recognize his ill-suitedness for his son. his infidelity and high priority of work really made him a poor father...catching the bad guy doesn't make you a better father.

@prepossessing...i know what you're saying...but roberts was smart, he went after the police...if he convicted lucas alone, then the cooruption, drugs, etc. really would have continued. in reality the system was the heart of the problem, not the gangsters, and roberts was wise enough to get to the heart of the issue.

Jordan M. Poss said...

Thanks for the thoughts. I was already looking forward to seeing this, but now I know for sure that there's some moral meat to the story. Looking forward to seeing it even more, now.

Free said...

I definitely get your point regarding Richie Roberts. I think I understand the complexity of his character, I just don't believe it. You are right though, Russell Crowe did an excellent job.

Anonymous said...

i wanna know who determines right or wrong... if selling drugs is wrong.. thenn why are they here... i wanna know... who determines wheather something is wrong or not if they've never lived my life or your life... or a crackheads life i should have just as much rite as anyone to determine wheather what i do is wrong or what you do is wrong we wuz all created equal supposedly so what gives 1 man the rite to say that isnt right to sell drugs or make dat paper anyway you can?