Review: American Heist
PLOT: An ex-con (Hayden Christensen) is pulled into a dangerous heist by his estranged brother (Adrien Brody) whos just out of prison and owes the mob boss (Tory Kittles) orchestrating the job a debt he cant repay.
REVIEW: AMERICAN HEIST is awfully low-rent for a movie that played at the Toronto International Film Festival. Maybe the names attached gave the film a certain cachet but having finally seen it for myself it looks like this one is destined for a quickie release on VOD as this is really no better than most DTV actioners that pop up every few weeks.
Director Sarik Andreasyan whos a top director in Russia does the best that he can with a clearly minuscule budget that looks like it was wasted on a few bombastic action shots that are out of tone with the otherwise low-key film. A semi-remake of an early Steve McQueen vehicle THE GREAT ST. LOUIS BANK ROBBERY AMERICAN HEIST clearly has ambitions beyond the DTV bin, but the result is an often clumsy film that lacks excitement and a sense of logic.
Most viewers will likely be drawn in by the presence of stars Hayden Christensen and Adrien Brody, two actors that really need good material in order to be effective. Christensen in particularly has been MIA for a while, with this being his first American film in four years (with the Chinese OUTCAST being his only other credit since 2010s VANISHING ON 7TH STREET). Christensen frequently winds up cast in tough guy parts that dont suit him, a fact made worse by an annoying habit he has of talking with a faux-tough guy patter that feels desperate rather than cool. While hes not awful in this, he just doesnt come across as the hardened ex-con were supposed to think he is. A romantic subplot with the gorgeous Jordana Brewster does little to flesh out his character, and its hard to believe that a former con who managed to get his life back on track with a decent job and a lovely girlfriend would allow himself to be suckered into such a clearly insane job.
Adrien Brody fares better as the Fredo-like brother, who in between snorts of coke constantly betrays his brother. Like Christensen, Brody also acts tough but the difference is that were not supposed to believe hes a badass and as a result Brodys performance winds up being fairly interesting. He even gets one really solid acting moment when he lets his guard down and hysterically tells his brother than he was raped in prison and had to be protected by Kittles tough guy enforcer.
Moments like this make one wonder how the movie would have gone down had the writing been up to snuff, but there are just too many dumb moments for the film to even come close to working. This is especially true once the heist kicks off. Kittles supposedly smart mobster, who rants on and on about the pitfalls of the American economy (the social criticism is very heavy-handed), suddenly turns into a psycho once the heist starts, randomly executing bank employees for no reason. It all leads to a conclusion thats clearly trying to be HEAT but doesnt even come close to establishing any sense of tension. The New Orleans-location photography doesnt help either as the vibe of the city is never really captured, making this feel all the more generic.
The best thing that can be said about AMERICAN HEIST is that its not awful thanks to a general sense of professionalism from all involved. Still, its about as run-of-the-mill as you can get and really only worth seeing if youre a major fan of Christensen or Brody. Otherwise its an easy one to ignore.