“American Gangster,” review by Susan Granger

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Based on the true story of an enterprising hoodlum who became a billionaire by dominating the Harlem drug scene, Ridley Scott’s crime drama has been called “Superfly” meets “Serpico.”

Back in the 1970s, when drug trafficking belonged to the Mafia, amiable, soft-spoken Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) chauffeured one of New York’s most notorious African-American mobsters, Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson. After his boss/mentor dies, Lucas quietly begins building his own empire. Astutely eliminating the middle man, he flies to Thailand to import heroin directly from Southeast Asia, arranging to have kilos hidden in caskets of American soldiers loaded onto military transports flying to New York from Vietnam.

Lucas’ “Blue Magic” is not only purer heroin but cheaper; twice the potency, it sells for half as much. Soon he’s making up to $1 million a day. While this entrepreneurship baffles and infuriates his rivals, it also catches the attention of Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), a stubbornly incorruptible New Jersey cop who is determined to put him in prison, despite Lucas’ bribing the corrupt detective (Josh Brolin) heading New York’s anti-drug Special Investigations Unit.

Written by Steven Zaillian (Oscar-winner for “Schindler’s List”) from a New York magazine article (“The Return of Superfly”) by Mark Jacobson, it boosts director Ridley Scott up from his 2006 comedy debacle, “A Good Year,” also starring Russell Crowe, but, surprisingly, it offers little story-telling originality and gets downright tedious at times. But that’s not the fault of the Oscar-winning leads – Washington and Crowe – who deliver strong performances, as do Josh Brolin and Ruby Dee, as Lucas’ mother.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “American Gangster” is a well-crafted but eerily familiar 7, evoking memories of better gangster movies like “The Godfather,” “Scarface,” “Heat,” “GoodFellas” and “The Departed.”

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.