Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe are on compelling form in Ridley Scott’s complex, engrossing and magnificent real-life thriller set in the 1970s.
Washington plays chauffeur Frank Lucas who reinvents himself as a crime kingpin in New York, using the Vietnam War as a cover for importing heroin from Asia and building a vast criminal empire from the proceeds. His inexorable rise up the underworld ladder is juxtaposed with the desperate efforts of Crowe’s idealistic cop Richie Roberts to bring him down at any cost.
The irony of the situation is that while the boundlessly corrupt Washington lives a life of casual affluence and is perceived as a pillar of the community, the incorruptible Crowe is a slovenly wreck. Both actors deliver powerhouse performances, although they actually only appear on screen together for just a few minutes near the end, in a movie that impeccably recreates the garish energy, grit and style of its era.