"Persevere." Matt. 24:13
American Gangster is an unsettling film.
This is the real life story of Frank Lucas (played here by Denzel Washington), an African-American Harlem mob boss who rose to power in the late 1960s and 1970s.
American Gangster treats Lucas' story as a grittier version of The Godfather, but in this movie, you don't feel affection for the crime lords; in fact, you can't wait until this man is put away. But for two hours, you watch a killer live a life of luxury and comfort while kids die in the street from the drugs he sells and while he and his soldiers brutally kill innocent men and women.
Watching the worst of the worst get away with murder, and then watching the cops around him do nothing because of their own greed and corruption, was a very unsettling, unpleasant experience watching this movie.
Add to that the story of Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), an honest New Jersey cop who lives a life of truthfulness, righteousness, and innocence partly due to his own search for redemption for his past - his womanizing, his cheating, his bad marriage. The road to redemption is never easy for Roberts, who is assigned to the Lucas case to track down the mob boss.
Both Roberts and Lucas are men in need of redemption. But only Roberts succeeds.
This movie is a reminder that living honestly is not going to be luxurious, living innocently is not going to be easy, and living the gospel will probably mean suffering in one way or another. This movie is also a reminder that, sometimes, the "bad guy" gets all the perks, and even gets away with murder (at least in this life).
In Matthew 24, Jesus describes times of tribulations for his disciples. Jesus said it wouldn't be easy, but at the same time exhorted his followers not to take up arms against it, but "the one who perseveres to the end will be saved." (Matt. 24:13).
This movie is one giant tribulation. And while Lucas finally faces justice (to the melody of "Amazing Grace," no less), we find out that his punishment was minor compared to the murders, corruption, drug-trafficking, and horrors that this man committed. We might get discouraged that justice wasn't truly done for all that he did.
But that's just part of tribulation. In the end, the punishment of this world won't matter much to God. It will be in His hands then. But if we persevere in honesty, truthfulness, honesty, gentleness, kindness, compassion, and love, it won't matter how this world treats us.
We are all like Roberts and Lucas, in desperate need of redemption.
But we are called to be like only one of them: Richie Roberts, enduring the hardships that go along with being gospel-driven people. It might be rough, tough, and unsettling, but God prays for us that we will persevere regardless, and come out clean on the other side.