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American Gangster
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I have a new rule for myself. No matter how tempted I might be, if a movie's running time is over 2 hours, I will not go see it in the theater. I'll wait for DVD.

King Kong was 3hrs 20min. The latest Pirates of the Caribbean was 2hrs 49min. And Spider-Man 3 was 2hrs 20min. If you have an epic story to tell, and that's a big if, e.g. Lord of the Rings, then you might be able to justify a running time over 2 hours. But for most movies it just means there's about an hour you could have easily cut to make it a much tighter, better movie.

It's a bit counterintuitive, but I think my attention span is actually decreasing with age. It's not that I can't focus my attention better than when I was a child. I'm just much less tolerant of slow and/or redundant material. If they're going to tell me a story I've seen a million times, okay, but tie it up in a nice package and get on with it.

American Gangster clocks in at 2hrs 37min, and there is absolutely no reason to take this long to tell this story. It is based on a true story, so I think there was a great temptation to throw all sorts of stuff in there that feels like extra baggage on the screen.

It's basically a story told in parallel, in which the threads finally converge. Denzel Washington plays a low-level, but classy Harlem thug who exploits a power vacuum left by the death of his boss. He finds a novel way to monopolize the heroin market in the New York area...he buys directly from farmers in Thailand and bribes US Army guys to fly it over here. It's purer and cheaper than anything here, and soon he takes over the entire market share and becomes mega-rich and mega-powerful. This works fine as long as the Vietnam War keeps going. Otherwise, his supply route is screwed.

Meanwhile, we see Russell Crowe as a squeaky-clean cop, going to night school to become a lawyer while his family is falling apart. We get a lot of backstory before he's finally put in charge of a Federally-run drug enforcement operation and he starts trying to figure out where all this high-quality heroin is coming from and who is running it all. This is about the point at which the movie should have introduced him. All the stuff about law school and his wife and kid and turning in money that most cops would have stolen could have been handled with a couple of lines of dialogue.

It may be based on a true story, but we've seen it all before a million times. There's nothing much fresh here, except that the bad guy is black...and if that's supposed to be fresh, then we're in trouble. The acting is good, of course, but what we're left with is basically a cat-and-mouse crime story that is bloated to the point where during at least a third of the running time you'll be thinking about what you're going to have for lunch/dinner or whatever else you've got on your mind.

So, you might want to pass on this one. And please join me in boycotting needlessly long-ass movies.

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