American Gangster is not at all what I was expecting. Somehow I got a sense that the film was a rags-to-riches Scarface clone mixed with a classic cop vs. crook plotline. The movie is neither of those. Sure Denzel’s Frank Lucas is an organized crime figure who takes off and becomes a big player in New York’s drug business, which is akin to Scarface’s climb to the top down in Miami, however that is pretty much where the similarities end. As far as the cop vs. crook elements that are in the movie (pitting Lucas against Russell Crow’s Detective Richie Roberts) the two characters are unaware of each other existence until the last 30 minutes of the movie. There is no climactic rivalry or any interaction between the two on any level until the very end, and even then the most action involves a coffee being knocked on the floor. The omission of out and out action or fueled rivalry between the two main characters really hurts this film, whether it was advertised as having such or not.
Now I don’t mean to criticize this movie for not being Scarface, especially considering that I really don’t care for the Pacino flick at all (though who doesn’t look good in a Scarface airbrushed t-shirt? honestly). However the impression I got was this was going to be as gripping and heated as said film, and it was not by any means. Though entertaining and competent, the movie never grabs you and makes you wonder what’s going to happen next. The story transpires in front of you, then comes to and end. There are no twists turns, loops or pitfalls along the way. The complete lack of a climax really hurts the film and the ending, though accurate, is downright dull.