American Heist
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American Heist

Few movie buffs would argue that her perennial favorite audiences of the films that concern themselves with criminals. Gangster movies dominated movie theaters 30s and 40s and I am reasonably confident the statement the year doesn’t go by without the release some film to extend this trend. One of the entries used to sustain the trend this year is ‘American Heist’. As the title so obviously indicates this is a specific subgenre crime flick, the heist movie. Differentiating this for over crime oriented movies is that the main motivation revolves around a single, monumental robbery. As with any other type of film there are certain archetypes and plot devices that must be included. Most common of which is the unwilling participant. There is always one of the criminal gang needs to be coerced into cooperating. His life of crime has made him desirable for inclusion for this job because of his expertise in one or more crucial elements of its execution. This character frequently has an innocent loved one convenient for the blackmailing by the boss of this larcenous group. American Heist dutifully checks off the proper boxes in order to satisfy the requirements of this category of movie. Unfortunately even with the most formulaic stories need to possess some spark, anything that can differentiate the film from the myriad of similar flicks. Although there is potential to be found in this movie the director, Sarik Andreasyan, as most of his credits local to his native Armenia. This is his first feature-length English language film. The screenwriter, Raul Inglis, as eclectic experience mostly in television, includes story editor for ‘Continuum’ in a few SyFy original movies.

As the film opens Frankie Kelly (Adrian Brody) is being released from prison. As he walks past the cells you so recently inhabited you can see his general demeanor transforming with each step becoming increasingly confident as he moves closer to his freedom. On the outside is that by two men who obviously part of his old, Sugar (Akon) and Ray (Tory Kittles). The Greek Frankie back into the world by taking them on a tour of hedonism that goes through the traditional cinematic post prison celebration; strippers, bottles of alcohol, the pile of cocaine leading up to the coup de grace, a very energetic prostitute. Exposition comes slowly in this film with one major plot point not revealed until two thirds of the film is already over. One significant point by necessity made quickly is that Frankie has a younger brother, James (Hayden Christiansen). The crux of the story is that 10 years ago Frankie and his gang were committing a robbery in using James as a getaway driver. During the course of the crime a man is shot and killed by Frankie. The others seem to have gotten very scot-free with the two brothers were arrested and found guilty. Since James was much younger and only driving the car’s lawyer manages to get him a sentence of less than two years while Frankie just completed a full decade inside.

James has been trying to get his life together by working in the family garage which is on the verge of going under like many post-Katrina businesses in New Orleans. But down by the bank that is "no longer involved in small business loans", James is finding straight and narrow road to be exceptionally difficult. Working in the shop one day his ex-girlfriend comes in, Emily (Jordana Brewster). He had not seen each other James and his brother Frankie went away to ‘travel’. The reunion is cordial with James offering to do the work necessary to repair her car at her place only charging for the parts in order to save her money. Exactly on the agreed-upon time James shows up to talk working on a car. James is shown to be a very sensitive young man calms himself by playing piano during the evening. Frankie, however, does not seem to possess any potential reintegration into his life outside prison.

Frankie introduces James two men who met him at the prison gates asking him where to give them a ride. The audience one community recognizes that there is nothing innocent about such a request and the more naïve among our numbers are screaming at the screen for James get out of there as fast as possible. He doesn’t and he winds in wall reading he is gunshot reading out now James is coming to visit in an armed robbery possibly one felony murder attached. One of the plot contrivances at work here is that James is the victim of a somewhat elaborate plot to draw him back into a life of crime. By the end of the film we will realize that James was targeted by an insidious plot carefully manufactured to box them into the role you play in the major, upcoming crime. As you might’ve guessed by the title that major crime is going to be a bank heist. Ray, the leader of the gang, has no use for the paltry sums kept cash drawers of the tellers; he is going after the major score; the pile of money residing in the vault.

Ray has an unseen accomplice will help them get past the time specific security measures of the vault. James is assigned the task of creating a number of bombs and blowing them up at strategic places around the city. This is to be done just that the time of the actual robbery in order to tie up the police, diverting the manpower. As it turns out Emily is a dispatch of the New Orleans Police Department and all records pertinent to the robbery come from the station. Thanks the news coverage, Emily has a front row seat as the dénouement unfolds. Leaving the film we find out that Emily was targeted by Ray and his more violent associates as an insurance policy to assure James’s cooperation. The carrot is this one job will net sufficient money to get garage back up and running; the stick is a painful death of the woman he loves.

Fans of the old gangster movies of the 30s one of the main elements of this movie is going to seem exceptionally familiar. One of the most common plot points of the classics is based on the fraternal dichotomy originally seen with Cain and Abel. There is always one good brother set upon the path of righteousness while the other is inextricably path that will inevitably lead to self-destruction. Traditionally one brother is either a priest or lawyer why the other becomes a mob boss having one brother striving to reform his criminal past while the other wants to pull him back in, works just as well, at least in theory. Story does contain the fundamental components necessary to make an interesting heist film. You have the emotional trauma between the two brothers James feeling obliged to Frankie taking a large part of the rap. It eventually comes out that Frankie psychologically broken while in prison subjected to every humiliating treatment ever alluded to in a ‘scared straight’ program. I’m quite sure that you have already guessed what Frankie was forced to endure but as it is one of Mr. Brody’s most dramatic scenes even this most obvious of spoilers. Mr. Christiansen has managed to achieve some marginal improvement from his infamously wooden appearance in the Star Wars franchise. The results of this is that Christiansen’s performance so exceptionally understated that Brody has to compensate which only pushes his characterization over the top.

Creating a Complex Caper: Pulling off 'American Heist'" Featurette

Posted 09/21/2015

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