I love being pleasantly surprised.
In retrospect, however, why I didn't think I'd like American Gangster is beyond me. It stars Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington, it scored Golden Globe nominations for Best Film and Best Actor (Denzel), it was directed and produced by Ridley Scott (whose movies I tend to like more often than not, with the exception of TAOJJBTCRF) and it was on almost every major film critic's Top Ten list for 2007... so I should've known it would be excellent. And it was... it was excellent.
Going into the movie I was scared that it would be ultra-violent, and I generally avoid those types of films. The very disgusting opening scene gave me a sinking feeling... that "Oh great, I'm going to have to cover my face with my blanket for the next two-and-a-half hours" feeling. But those initial few moments were misleading, because all in all, the movie wasn't that violent. Certainly not as bad as The Departed, for example. Almost all of the gross parts you could see coming (which gave me time to dive under my blanket).
Perhaps the most incredible thing about American Gangster is that it is based on a true story. Set in New York during the Vietnam War, it followed the rise to power of Frank Lucas (played by Denzel), a Harlem drug lord. I had no idea that there was such a huge heroin addiction problem during the war--both among our troops and among people back in the States. So I dare say there was a bit of a history lesson in the movie as well. If you don't know anything about the story of Frank Lucas, try to keep yourself in the dark about it if you follow my advice and plan to rent the movie... because how he achieved his great success plays like a mystery, and if you find out how he did it beforehand, it will ruin a bit of the film for you (my husband figured it out right away... but I didn't). (And please don't leave any comments about it so as to not spoil it for others...)
Russell Crowe plays a down-on-his-luck cop who's no angel himself, but who is trying to unravel the mystery of who is supplying the city with potent heroin.
I highly recommend this movie--especially if you have a fondness for either of the two leads--they are remarkable, and the rest of the cast is great as well. Below is a two-minute-long trailer to give you a taste for the film.