Style / January 2018

Celluloid Style: American Gangster

How do Denzel Washington’s suits and the wardrobes of his fellow cast members perfectly reflect New York City’s underworld in the 1970s? We find out.

Frank Lucas in his two-piece sand-drift brown suit walks the streets of Harlem with his younger brothers.

Looking into the mirror in a nightclub in downtown Harlem, New York City, Frank Lucas quizzically asks his younger brother Huey, “What you got on?” “A very, very nice suit,” Huey responds proudly, wearing a 1970s-style silk shirt with the exaggerated collar overlapping the lapels of his three-piece. Lucas, however, disagrees. “It’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.” He pulls his younger brother close to dispense some words of wisdom. “Look at me. The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.” Brotherly love then takes over and the wardrobe malfunction is seemingly forgotten. Lucas closes the scene with the line, “You know if you wasn’t my brother I’d kill you. I’d blow your motherfuckin’ brains out. I’m taking you shopping.”

Despite only being ten years old, Ridley Scott’s American Gangster – which he recalls as one of the biggest undertakings of his esteemed career with 360 scenes in over 180 locations – is a cult classic that's loosely based on a true story. With the score composed by Scott’s frequent collaborator Marc Streitenfeld, it’s a gripping crime thriller that masters a character balance of hoodlum VS gentleman and kingpin VS family man with a funk-laden soundtrack of period blues, soul and R&B against the backdrop of a deteriorating but bustling inner city. Denzel Washington steals the show as Frank Lucas, overseeing an innovative heroin trafficking empire during the Vietnam War with the help of his closely-knit family. Meanwhile, there’s the dishevelled, straight-shooting and honest cop — the antithesis of the New York police force in the 1970s — Richard ‘Richie’ Roberts, played by Russell Crowe, who’s hot on Lucas’ tail.

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Benedict Browne

Benedict is The Rake's Associate Style Editor.