This decision was a wise one from a business standpoint and it allowed him to drastically reduce costs, which in turn reflected in lower prices for cocaine. Soon enough then, Lucas became the preferred drug provider, selling the quality Blue Magic at low prices. He even became the wholesaler for other drug dealers in the city.
This desire to cut the middle man and deal with operations directly is also present with Richie Robinson. Not once is he met with the frustration of the bureaucracy that slows him down. And when he finally manages to better follow the illicit activities, he becomes head of a new department that follows drug dealers directly, rather than focusing on the middle men.
Then, there is the theme of discipline and strong character. Richie Roberts is not himself a very disciplined man. His marriage is falling apart and his colleagues dislike him. Still, in all this, he maintains his integrity as a human being. While most of his colleagues -- including his partner Javier Rivera (played by John Ortiz) -- indulge the mafia and even profit from its drug dealings, he strives to live by his oaths. Thins brings him the discontent of his colleagues, most of whom are corrupted. At the end of the movie for instance, when Frank Lucas agrees to collaborate with Roberts and divulges the names of all corrupt cops, three quarters of the policemen in the New York Drug Enforcement Agency are arrested.
As for Frank Lucas, unlike his prosecutor and most of the men in his entourage, he is a very disciplined man. He places emphasis on being integer and reliable. Both Lucas and Robinson are different from the features which characterize their environments. Robinson is a clean cop among corrupt policemen and Lucas is a disciplined man among disorganized drug users.
But more than personal traits, greed or temptation, American Gangster is a film about loyalty, trust and family. Within the mafia, trust and loyalty are essential features. Ironically enough, a criminal organization is run internally by its internal code of conduct, by a strong handed leader and by strict rules. The members of the mafia family are for instance prohibited from attacking one another and this was adopted by numerous mafia leaders as the "no hands rule" (Sifaakis, 2005, p.332).
The members recruited by the mafia could not be parties in the law enforcement teams, yet some exceptions were made. The relationships with the law enforcements were based on mutual gains and discretion, in order to promote mutual goals but preserve reputation. The mafia members were prohibited from engaging in relationships with the wives of other family members and were generally requested to lead an immaculate family life.
Secrecy and discretion were also widely promoted and the usage and transmittal of information were subjected to specific norms as well. Finally, the mafia members have to be integer with one another and recognize their own rights and properties.
"We do not know whether this code existed before the attempt was made to form a carte or whether the latter was responsible for its introduction. We do know, however, that those Mafiosi who turned state's evidence in the 1980s considered a number of these prohibitions and norms as integral part of their trade" (Gambetta, p.118).
These codes of conduct are commonly present in American Gangster. Frank Lucas places an increased interest on all integrity, honesty and family.
"The most important thing is business is honesty. Integrity. Hard work. Family. Never forget where we came from" (Frank Lucas).
Family plays a pivotal part for Lucas, as well as for any other mobster.
"A Mafioso must not become involved with the wives of his colleagues, and in general must be seen to lead an irreproachable family life. If these rules have any purpose other than to uphold conventional values, it must be to safeguard reputation; that is, a protector must protect his wife's virtue first lest he end up a cornuto" (Gambetta, p.120).
For Frank Lucas, the security and well-being of his family are primordial. After registering the first substantial money from drug dealings, Lucas bought his humble mother an impressive house. It was a sign of affection, respect and desire for his mother to live better than she had in the past. And the security created for his family expanded outside simple financial means. It was based on status, power and stability. And the home he had created would not be tempered by anybody. Lucas once told Richie Roberts:
"This is my home. This is where my business is, my wife, my mother, my family. This is my country, I ain't goin' nowhere"
Lucas also behaves with and promotes discretion. But his emphasis on discretion is not so much linked to a personal commitment, but it is more so linked to a personal conviction that discretion would help him pass by unnoted and as such he would not capture the attention of the police. His belief is so true that he promotes it to others as well. Frank Lucas in a dialogue with Huey Lucas (Chiwetel Ejiofor):
"Frank Lucas: What is that you got on?
Huey Lucas: What? This?
Frank Lucas: Yeah, that.
Huey Lucas: This is a very, very, very nice suit.
Frank Lucas: That's a very, very, very nice suit, huh?
Huey Lucas: Yeah.
Frank Lucas: That's a clown suit. That's a costume, with a big sign on it that says "Arrest me." You understand? You're too loud, you're making too much noise. Listen to me, the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room."
But Frank Lucas made one mistake regarding his credo of fashionable discretion. At the beginning of the film, Frank is a single man, focused on his work more than anything. In the process however, he meets and falls in love with Eva (Lymari Nadal) and shows a moment of weakness in this romance.
The couple set out to see a box match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier -- the Fight of the Century -- and, to please Eva, Frank wears a notable fur coat and an ostentatious hat that draws attention. Also, he got ringside tickets -- much better than the sites purchased by the mafia members. The seats, the clothes, the attitude and the gains all indicate that Frank Lucas is not part of any Italian mafia families, but he is in fact above the mafia.
As it so happens, the Match of the Century is also attended by Richie Roberts, who spots Lucas for the first time. This leads to a series of chain reactions that eventually catch up with Lucas and lead to his conviction.
American Gangster is one of the most powerful Hollywood films. It centers on the true story of drug dealer Frank Lucas, portrayed by Denzel Washington. It follows the rise and fall of the man who got above the mafia and managed to "accomplish what the American Mafia hasn't in a hundred years" (the District Attorney, played by Roger Bart)
But the film goes beyond the simple actions of the man. It reveals the internal behaviors of the mafia, including the personal beliefs of Lucas. It is a story of love, trust, honesty and integrity, in which the family comes first. It is a different take on the world of organized crime, allowing the viewer to better understand the world from within.
Benshoff, H.M., Griffin, S., America on film: representing race, class, gender and sexuality at the movies, John Wiley and Sons, 2011
Gambetta, D., The Sicilian mafia: the business of private…