As 1970s Harlem drug kingpin Frank Lucas, Denzel Washington is equal parts charisma and cold blood—a combination critics can't resist. "In the still, watchful center of his volcanic performance you'll find the measure of a dangerous man," writes Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, adding that American Gangster, a stunningly paced film that finds director Ridley Scott at the top of his game, "goes to the heart of America's obsession with success as a killer instinct."
"Washington is brilliant," gushes Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post. His face "goes from an expressive projection of empathy to a stone-killer executioner's mask so fast it's scary." American Gangster chronicles the face-off between Lucas and Richie Richards, the New Jersey detective who takes him down, channeled by a "combustible" Russell Crowe. The result: "Probably the best gangster crime drama of the year," writes Claudia Puig in USA Today.