Based on a true story, the movie stars Denzel Washington as a Harlem kingpin who took over New York City’s heroin trade in the Seventies by using body bags returning from Vietnam to smuggle his supply. Russell Crowe plays the cop who tries to bring him down. The film shows all the hallmarks of Scott’s steady hand: a taut, complex narrative; stunning visuals; and top-shelf performances by both Washington and Crowe.
Before Scott agreed to direct in February of last year, the project was notoriously difficult to get off the ground. “It was harder than any of the 70 movies I’ve made,” says producer Brian Grazer, who optioned a magazine profile of the real-life drug dealer in 2000. The project went through a number of titles and configurations of actors, directors and writers, and was extremely close to being made in the fall of 2004 with Antoine Fuqua directing, Steve Zaillian writing the script, Washington starring and Benicio Del Toro in the cop role. But just four weeks away from shooting and having already spent $40 million on the movie, Universal abruptly canceled the production, citing concerns that the film would bust its already hefty $100 million budget.
Nonetheless, Grazer kept trying to push the project through. With Washington still interested, Grazer offered the cop role to Crowe, who like Scott had passed on the film a number of times over the years. Grazer asked what he could do to interest him. Recounts Crowe: “I said, the only way you’re going to get me interested is if you get someone like Ridley.”
Scott had always liked the script but could never fit the film into his schedule. But in early 2006, he and Crowe had just wrapped the romantic comedy A Good Year and were looking for another project to do together. “I’ve just sort of taken this attitude that if it fits in, I’ll just keep working with him,” Crowe says. “There’s always other things around, but over time our schedules are sort of locked in together. It’s a basic working-class thing: To work with Ridley I’m going to finish the day satisfied that I did my best.” Scott’s next two films, the CIA thriller Body of Lies and Nottingham, a retelling of the Robin Hood story, will also star Crowe.