Acclaimed moviemaker Sir Ridley Scott has tackled the Crusades, rejuvenated sword-and-sandal epics and given us icy visions of a robotic future. Now the director turns his attention to a different kind of period piece in American Gangster, out in wide release from Universal Pictures on November 2. American Gangster chronicles the rise of New York heroin hustler Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) from drug apprentice to public superstar in the early 1970s, running a tight ship with a strict business ethic. Matched up against him is renegade cop Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), his home life in shambles, but refusing to partake in the corruption overwhelming the police department.

Scott was intrigued by the clash between the lives of Lucas and Roberts, so he set out to “explore two universes—hopefully making them both fascinating and gradually bringing them together. They’re carefully intercut, because every time you intercut between these two worlds, they’re getting closer together.” American Gangster marks Scott’s third collaboration with Crowe after 2000’s Gladiator and 2006’s A Good Year. Evidently they haven’t exhausted their creative fires, so two more projects together will be forthcoming: Body of Lies, about a former journalist hunting an al Qaeda kingpin in Jordan, and Nottingham, where Crowe plays the title sheriff embroiled in a love triangle with Maid Marion and Robin Hood.

At West Hartlepool College of Art, Scott showed signs of greatness to come when he displayed prodigious skill in graphic design and painting. His first feature would be 1977’s The Duellists, a chronicle of the Napoleonic Wars. His next two movies would mark his “science-fiction phase” and establish him as a groundbreaking original; both Alien and Blade Runner hold up remarkably well to this day. 1991’s Thelma and Louise might seem out of step with the rest of his canon, but it holds true to Scott’s tradition of strong female characters which appear even in his male-dominated movies. It also earned him his first best director Oscar nod (he would also be nominated for Gladiator and Black Hawk Down). Flanked by two actors at the height of their talents in American Gangster, Scott can probably count on another.