American Night – ★★ 1/2

American Night – ★★ 1/2

American Night falls foul of trying to be far too ambitious. Structuring the story in a non-linear manner isn’t hampers all momentum, and despite all the style and stellar cast, nothing can save it from the writing.

Instead, American Night is about Michael Rubino (Emile Hirsch), the new head of the New York Mafia, who was robbed of his childhood by his father. He has a yearning to be an artist, something his advisors try to veer him away from not to appear weak. After his new purchase, Warhol’s ‘Marilyn’ is stolen, he hires ex-criminal and once art phenomenon-now art dealer John Kaplan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), his ex-stunt performer brother (Jeremy Piven) and art restorer Sarah (Paz Vega) to get him his painting back, leading them all down a violent path.

That sounds far more appealing and brings us to the root issue of American Night. It doesn’t know what it wants to be, getting so wrapped up in what it thinks it should be that it forgets that it should just keep things so much simpler, by doing so, it would work on so many more levels, and although it has that stilted writing, there would be something there. This is a film that tries to flood itself with so many ideas and small plot lines that it loses what was working for it. By toning all of this guff down and placing it back into a linear structure, you would really have a film that actually grips you.

When the film stops trying to over stylise itself and become an actual film about the power within the art world and the mob, it is interesting. Yet we will have moments when Hirsch’s Rubino is releasing his anger with his art and his father by shouting a gun into a fresh piece. Then suddenly, that moment is trashed when the camera does a dramatic hero style shot around him before having a crashing wall of text stating where we are. Why was that included? What are we gaining from all of this and the weird transitions?

Again, though it raises the main issue of how much more sense American Night would be if it were in chronological order, we would witness John’s spiral and how much Michael wanted to be his own man without the mafia before being dragged into it a lost situation. Instead, we are going back and forth with all of these characters history with next to none of it making a lick of sense. We lose a lot of the power in certain moments as we either already know the ramifications or are brought up repeatedly to remind us. Moving a film to a shuffled structure should only be done so if it enhances the overall film. Here it actively detracts from it.

Some character inclusions range from pointless to baffling, there is a large change that Michael Madsen did not know what was being filmed in his scenes, and the less said about anything that Jeremy Piven “brings” to the film, the better. Expanding the story so wide and thinking that it needs to have all of these characters dilutes what worked so well, which was the two leads story. When that is front and centre and given time to breathe, it works far better than you would expect. When we follow the courier or Piven’s Vincent, it becomes a needless headache that the film doesn’t need.

By the way, the courier may as well be the comedy relief throughout and then suddenly, like Vincent, he becomes a top-level assassin because the final act needs that action moment? However, the less said about that nonsense of a final act, the better. It has the ending that this version of the film honestly deserves. Unfortunately, incomprehensible and drawn out, it lacks the punch that it needed to work.

American Night is so hampered by the script that it continually loses momentum, making it hard to recover fully. Despite it looking fantastic with the mood set well and the stellar performances from Rhys Meyer, Hirsch, and Vega. You are left genuinely pondering what could have been. It is such a shame that for all of the style within the movie, it lacked the substance to carry the audience through its near 2-hour runtime.

Director Alessio Della Valle should have a bright future as a filmmaker, but by trying to go so ambitious right out of the gate, he has bitten off more than he can chew in his first feature.

American Night is available now on digital.

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