Not to be confused with the new Denzel Washington/Russell Crowe movie of the same name, "American Gangster" is a BET series that chronicles the stories of some of the biggest African-American criminals of all time, including druglords, thieves, and gang leaders. Each episode of the series unfolds like a documentary, with interviews with conspirators, police, witnesses and many others who were involved in some way with the crimes. The series is narrated by Ving Rhames.
While I was dismayed that there were times here-and-there when the show seemed to be glorifying these stories, "American Gangster" does certainly go into a great level of detail as to how these stories unfolded. The most fascinating story of the season is probably that of Frank Lucas, the legendary gangster who was played by Denzel Washington in "American Gangster".
While the Washington/Russell Crowe movie (some of the interviews done for the movie are included in the episode) provided an overview of how Lucas ran his empire, such as his decision to head overseas to create his own drug connection (thanks - possibly in part - to a local friend), eventually going into the mountains of Thailand to do it. The military planes used for the war (including one plane that Henry Kissinger flew on) were used to transport the drugs, leading Frank to be able to sell more pure drugs at a higher profit due to no middleman and cheaper transport.
A story that may be of interest to fans of "The Wire" is that of Melvin Williams, a criminal with a high-IQ who brought massive amounts of heroin into Baltimore. Williams outsmarted the cops for decades, and his exploits were inspiration for the HBO series. One of the more unusual stories in the season is that of Kenneth McGriff, who went from drug dealer in Queens to Hollywood producer to prison.
Again, while I had issues with the series and how it occasionally seemed to be glorifying some of these stories, I do have to say that the amount of detail that it does into the rise and fall of these criminals is impressive.
7. 2- 1 3 Oct 07 Philly Black Mafia
8. 2- 2 10 Oct 07 Larry Hoover
9. 2- 3 17 Oct 07 Melvin Williams
10. 2- 4 24 Oct 07 The D.C. Snipers
11. 2- 5 31 Oct 07 Frank Lucas
12. 2- 6 7 Nov 07 Felix Mitchell
13. 2- 7 14 Nov 07 Jeff Fort and the Blackstone Rangers
14. 2- 8 21 Nov 07 Chaz Williams
15. 2- 9 28 Nov 07 Rayful Edmond III
16. 2-10 5 Dec 07 Kenneth McGriff
VIDEO: The series is presented by Paramount in 1.33:1 full-frame. With a lot of archive footage mixed in with new interviews, image quality does vary quite a bit throughout. The newer interviews remain mildly crisp, but archive footage can look soft, fuzzy and occasionally mildly worn. No artifacting or edge enhancement was seen. Colors looked natural during most newer footage, but archive footage could look faded or otherwise problematic. Overall, the show looks about as good as it can probably look here.
SOUND: The show's stereo soundtrack offered crisp interviews and musical score.
EXTRAS: Extended interview with Melvin Williams, Extended interviews with Frank Lucas and Frank Lucas, Jr. and an extended interview with Bo Baines.
Final Thoughts: While I had issues with the series and how it occasionally seemed to be glorifying some of these stories, I do have to say that the amount of detail that it does into the rise and fall of these criminals is impressive. The DVD set offers minimal extras and satisfactory audio/video quality. Those with an interest in crime history may want to look into this set.