This week's picks from The New Republic's film critic.

American Gangster. A would-be epic that at least vividly recounts the smooth-and-deadly life of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington). While Lucas murders along on his drug-dealing way, a determined detective (Russell Crowe) is grinding toward him. The Vietnam War background underscores the irony about Lucas. (From the upcoming 12.10.07 issue.)

Lust, Caution. In the China of the early 1940s occupied by Japan, a young woman plans to seduce a Chinese traitor so that her friends can kill him. The phenomenal Ang Lee paces the story a bit slowly, but gracefully, and, in the end, terrifyingly. (10.22.07)

Michael Clayton. The screenwriter Tony Gilroy makes an adroit directing debut with this intelligent drama about a slick lawyer in a slick firm. George Clooney, fine in the role, takes us with him into the man’s discovery of some uncomfortable truths about success. (11.5.07)

Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037. Surprisingly, refreshingly, ninety minutes in the Steinway piano factory in Queens, New York, are fascinating. This documentary about the birthing of a concert grand is a kind of ode to devoted craftsmanship and sustaining principles. (11.19.07)

Stanley Kauffmann is The New Republic's film critic.

By Stanley Kauffmann