The 15 Best Portrayals of Real-Life Gangsters in Movies

14. Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas, American Gangster (2007)

The best thing about Flight, the recent Denzel Washington-starring drama about an alcoholic airplane pilot: Its immediate ability to remind us that he's a superior actor. That's not always the case with his ongoing string of stylized action movies (i.e., The Book of Eli, Safe House), in which Washington is typically solid but usually gives the impression of a proven actor taking the easy way out. In that sense, Flight has much in common with Ridley Scott's 2007 true-crime flick American Gangster.

Washington gives a powerhouse performance as Frank Lucas, a heroin dealer and organized crime kingpin who ran the streets of Harlem throughout the late 1960s and early '70s. American Gangster fictionalizes many aspects of Lucas' life, but it's nonetheless compelling, fast-paced, and home to numerous top-shelf actors at their best.

Playing Lucas as suave, determined, and bullshit-free, Washington conveys the aura of a less-tragic Tony Montana.

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