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Movie Review: American Gangster

Alternate Title: A Few Good Men

Story: Speaking of gangsters, without notice or warning, when I went to the box office today I discovered that the price of a movie ticket increased to $12 in Manhattan. Yikes!

Okay, enough of my complaining - back to the review. Early Hollywood had the cowboy as its American icon - today's Hollywood iconizes the gangster, drug kingpin and mobster. My oh my - how have we arrived at this point as a society?

Oscar nominated director Ridley Scott has delivered a very entertaining, compelling, overly long, multi-layered film based on a true story. It is deftly brought to the screen by Oscar wining screenwriter, Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) and based on the article The Return of Superfly by Mark Jacobson.

The film follows two parallel stories - the hunter and the hunted. The hunted one is self-made, Harlem drug kingpin, Frank Lucas. He built a multimillion dollar organization around his heroin trade. He is a businessman who just happens to kill people. Entrepreneurship, it seems, rules in America - regardless of the product -even if the product happens to be heroin. The hunter is Richie Roberts, who seems to be the only honest cop left in New Jersey and New York.

The story takes place from 1968 to 1973 and bad guys abound on both sides of the law. The Vietnam War is on every TV screen and radio in the background and plays a significant role in the film.

This is one of those beautifully made films with expensive production values and it looks it. The editing was first class by Pietro Scalia. As a story, it will remind you of many films you have seen before but other than being way too long I found it entertaining and well worth my time and money, even with the higher price of the ticket.

Acting: Denzel Washington plays the bad guy well. He has a sociopathic glare that is scary and backs it up with that million dollar smile. He was very good indeed. Russell Crowe did not have as elegant a role but he did a fine job as the shlumpy good cop and always plays the outsider very well. Josh Brolin was brilliant as the rogue cop and I am sure he will get an Oscar nod for this role. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lymari Nadal, RZA, Ted Levine, Ruby Dee, Armand Assante and Carla Gugino all filled their supporting jobs well.

Predilection: I like big production films with good acting.

Critters: Three dogs. For those on this list who like to know these things, a dog is killed off camera towards the end of the film. It is not surprising, but still disturbing. There are also way too many fur coats.

Food: The juxtapositioning of the drug kingpins hearty Thanksgiving meal for his large family against the lonely good cops' chicken salad, potato chip and pickle sandwich was funny.

Sex Spectrum: There is a sex scene in the kitchen that is not at all sexy and there are lots of naked women cutting the heroin. Why are they naked you ask? So they can't steal any of the product.

Blatant Product Placement: Blue Magic heroin

Soundtrack: The music by Marc Streitenfeld was at times over the top. The songs were a bit obvious and made me laugh. My favorite bit was when the rogue cop Detective Trupo was introduced it was as if the devil had walked into the room with sound effects.

Opening Titles: The opening scene is very compelling as Lucas emotionlessly sets a guy on fire and then shoots him as the small title appears in the corner. By the way - doesn't American Gangster sound like the name of a line of clothing?

Visual Art: There are a few Leroy Neimans on the walls.

Theater Audience: A few appreciative viewers.

Weather: The heroin trade goes on through all types of weather.

Sappy Factor: 0

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: There were many scenes of needles going into veins and also some explosive violence.

Drift Factor: I started to look at my watch at 90 minutes but I did not drift, just started to get tired of sitting for so long.

Predictability Level: High

Tissue Usage: 0

Oscar Worthy: Josh Brolin will get a supporting actor nod for sure.

Soap Box: I learned that not only was the Vietnam War a disgrace and a failure but apparently some of the military was in on the trafficking of heroin into this country during that time.

Nit Picking: There weren't any Don't Walk /Walk signs in the 60's. Everyone had to cross the street at their own risk. I also noticed some new cars every now and then.

Big Screen or Rental: Oh, big screen for sure. For some of my favorite Ridley Scott films you can rent: Matchstick Men, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, Thelma & Louise, Someone to Watch Over Me, Blade Runner and Alien

Length: 30 minutes over the two hour Lobo rule.