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Review: American Night – “Alessio Della Valle deserves credit for the look of his film”

Post-Tarantino.  Pulp Fiction knock-offs.  You know the sort of thing… The Way of the Gun.  Lucky Number Slevin.  Guy Ritchie’s entire career.

There are some genuinely great films in the category, things like Go, or Get Shorty, but as in most cases, imitations suffer badly in comparison to the original, and so, sadly is the case here.

“Who are your influences?”  The Italian director, writer and producer of American Night, Alessio Della Valle, would surely say, “Quentin Tarantino and Nicolas Winding Refn.”  The latter’s visual style, so striking in movies like Drive and Only God Forgives, seems to be a major inspiration.  Della Valle deserves credit for the look of his film.  It has some nice visual flourishes, in keeping with the focus on contemporary art.  Primary colours and neon abound.  The ‘Dead Rockstar Diner’ a centrepiece of the film’s early scenes, while a blatant knock-off of Jack Rabbit Slims, has a good costume for Nirvana nerds.

So visually, great.  The music’s good too: great to hear Wolfmother getting some love, and Anastacia (remember her?) turns up at one point to sing the theme song.  There’s plenty of gratuitous boobery if you want it.

Then there’s everything else.  Jesus Christ.

This C-list studded movie is filled with ‘him out of that thing’ faces, which supplies some entertainment during the boring bits.  There are a lot of boring bits.

Into the Wild was a long time ago for Emile Hirsch, here playing an art-obsessed gangster.  In one scene, he’s applying a power tool to some unfortunate off-screen.  His gloves and face mask are dripping with blood.  Everything else is spotless.

That superficial attention to visual style is a metaphor for the whole film.  Later he shaves his head, which seems intended to signal a façade dropping, but his character doesn’t change.  He just looks like an angry creepy bald man instead of an angry creepy bequiffed man.  The quiff is worse… the erstwhile pin-up looks like Fast Tony from the Fast Show.

Jeremy Piven shows up.  That guy from Entourage.  He’s a stuntman.  And… um… yeah, he’s a ninja.  That happens.  He spends most of the film trying to hit a bullseye on a dartboard while wearing a blindfold.  At one point he runs away from some people on a fire escape.  While wearing a blindfold.  This film is quirky, you see.  But Jeremy doesn’t see.  Because he’s wearing a blindfold.

The lead is Jonathan Rhys Meyers, a fine Irish actor, though I haven’t seen him in anything since Mission Impossible III.  Another heartthrob, he’s still a looker, but he seems to have grown backwards into his own face.

The most obvious nod to Tarantino is the fact that Michael Madsen shows up, although it’s barely more than a cameo.  Anyone hoping for some Mr Blonde style ear slicing is going to be sorely disappointed.

There are also some women in it.  You can tell that because they have breasts.

Tarantino likes screwing with time in his movies.  There’s another guy you might have heard of who does that too… Christopher Nolan.  If you’re playing in that territory, you better bring your A-game.  Now, Nolan is sometimes accused of shallow characterisation, of prioritising plot over character.  Maybe Della Valle took that as a principle and wanted to see how far he could push it.

For instance, there’s a love story central to the plot, a love so deep that one character is willing to risk everything.  But we’re given no reason for that deep love other than that they shagged in some paint once.

One character’s entire personality is that he has narcolepsy.  Every time someone shoots at him, he falls asleep.  Because quirky.

Maybe I’m missing some deeper commentary about art, and I hold my hands up if that’s the case, but it doesn’t make a compelling movie.

The plot is some guff about Warhol’s painting of Marilyn Monroe.  It’s deliberately episodic and pretentiously tells you it will be delivered in three parts.  That’s crying out to be a 90-minute movie, but it goes on for over two hours.  There’s a death scene here that I swear is longer than the deliberately silly one in Deadpool 2 but is played painfully straight and has cringy title-bingo… it’s a beautiful American Night.  Okay.

There’s a final ‘twist’ which probably makes no sense at all, and I can’t bring myself to care either way.

Look… I don’t want to be that guy; I don’t want to shit on a creative endeavour that I’m sure most of the people involved cared about.  Hirsch and Rhys Meyers are both hugely talented guys and I feel bad that they can’t find better material.  But in a world where Disney has only failed to take the number one spot once in 10 years (and that was because the world stopped), we need stronger efforts in adult-oriented thrillers and we need money to go to people who will do something original, not just copy all the style and none of the substance from better artists.

Must try harder.

American Night is available on Digital Download from Monday 7th February.

Check out Geek Graffiti for more of my work.

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