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American Gangster

Screenwriter: Steven Zaillian

Distrib/release date: Universal/Oct. 19

Storyline: Parallel lives are explored through the pursuit of family-oriented but deadly Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) by flawed but incorruptible New Jersey cop Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe).

About the script: “It’s really a story about American business, family and race,” says Zaillian, who was inspired by a New York Magazine article by Mark Jacobson. “It would essentially be the same story if Frank sold real estate instead of heroin. Only everyone carries guns.”

Biggest challenge: “Managing a story whose two main characters not only don’t meet until the end, but aren’t even aware of each other for more than half of it.”

Breakthrough idea: “The chinchilla coat. That Frank is undone not by corrupt cops or rival gangsters or arrogance, but by wanting to please his wife. Undone by love.”

Choice line: “Your success is who took a shot at you. How are you going to kill it? By being unsuccessful? You can be successful and have enemies, or unsuccessful and have friends. It’s the choice we make.”

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