American Gangster is a 2007 American biographical crime film directed and produced by Ridley Scott and written by Steven Zaillian. The film is based on the criminal career of Frank Lucas, a gangster from La Grange, North Carolina who smuggled heroin into the United States on American service planes returning from the Vietnam War, before being detained by a task force led by detective Richie Roberts. The film stars Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington in their first lead acting roles together since 1995's Virtuosity. The film also co-stars Ted Levine, John Ortiz, Josh Brolin, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Norman Reedus, Ruby Dee, Lymari Nadal and Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Development for the film initially began in 2000, when Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment purchased the rights to a New York magazine story about the rise and fall of Lucas. Two years later, screenwriter Steven Zaillian introduced a 170-page scriptment to Scott. Original production plans were to commence in Toronto for budget purposes; however, production eventually relocated permanently to New York City. Because of the film's rising budget Universal canceled production in 2004. After negotiations with Terry George, it was later revived with Scott at the helm in March 2005. Principal photography commenced over a period of five months from July to December 2006; filming took place throughout New York City and concluded in Thailand.
American Gangster premiered in New York on October 20, 2007, and was released in the United States and Canada on November 2. The film was well received by most film critics, and grossed over US$266.5 million worldwide, with domestic grosses standing at $130.1 million. Many of the people portrayed, including Roberts and Lucas, have stated that the film took many creative licenses with the story, and three former DEA agents sued Universal claiming the agency's portrayal was demoralizing. American Gangster was nominated for twenty-one awards, including two Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction and Best Supporting Actress (Ruby Dee), and won three including a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role for Dee.
In 1968, Frank Lucas, the limo driver-turned-right-hand man of Harlem gangster Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, inherits Johnson's gang when Johnson dies of a heart attack. Disliking the new, flashy gangsters of the neighborhood, Lucas decides to take control of Harlem's crime scene.