Yesterday I saw American Gangster, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Washington plays a Harlem drug lord, a real-life figure, Frank Lucas, who uses the caskets of dead soldiers from Vietnam to smuggle heroin into the country. He then sells it, undiluted, for less than other drug dealers sell their diluted drugs. Crowe plays the ethical cop, Richie Roberts, who is appointed to clean up the local drug problem by finding and bringing down the men, like Lucas, who control the drug trade.

It’s the first big Oscar contender (as defined by the various Oscar predictions sites that I read: The Oscar Igloo, Everything Oscar, Awards Daily, Oscar Race 2007, and The Envelope — ok, so I read a lot of Oscar blogs; I’m a gay man: what do you expect?!) that’s come to Athens. PJ and I try to see all of the Oscar contenders each year, and the race is now on.

I liked American Gangster. Washington is great in his role. I am a big fan of his early work — I love Glory and earlier this year PJ introduced me to St Elsewhere, which I had never watched before. He’s always good, even if the film he’s in isn’t, but he’s great in American Gangster. Lucas is both a level-headed businessman who loves his family and a cold-blooded psychopath whose fuse can blow in a split second. Washington handles both aspects of the role with aplomb. I especially liked that he doesn’t overact the violent moments. Even though the character is out of control in these scenes, Washington isn’t. Watching him in this movie is watching a master craftsman.