The Fall of the American Empire is a new crime comedy from Canadian satirist Denys Arcand, and although it does feel like it came out a bit too late, it is still wildly entertaining and insightful. The film is about a man who arrives on the scene of a hold-up gone wrong, sending him into a dangerous web of deception.
The story arc of the movie is a somewhat common one, adhering to many of the tropes of the heist film. However, the unique and comedic spin that Arcand puts on the script makes it feel refreshing and enjoyable. Additionally, the “heist” itself is relatively creative, so it is enjoyable to watch how it plays out and see whether or not the characters are going to find success.
One of the most interesting things that Arcand does with the script is infuse it with ethical and philosophical questions, not only about whether or not the protagonist was justified in taking the money, but also about the ethics of being rich. Granted, Arcand does open up a huge can of worms with this, and there is no way to answer some of these questions he poses in a single movie, but they are thought-provoking nonetheless.
The humor of the film is largely of the absurdist type, largely relying on the inherent ridiculousness of the situation for the laughs. It is hilarious to watch the protagonist, an “average upstanding citizen”, try to figure out how to get away with his crime and the bumbling detectives fail to find a way to pin the crime on him. If you enjoy heist movies, you will likely enjoy the humor in this.
Another reason that the movie is so effective is that the character development is mostly strong. The protagonist is extremely likable, and his arc over the course of the film is compelling, if not too complex. All of the supporting characters are likable too, even if they are somewhat archetypal, like the “prostitute with a heart of gold” or the “biker who has a soft spot on the inside”.
The actors do a very good job in their roles. Alexandre Landry plays the protagonist in a way that is hard not to love. His performance doesn’t require a great deal of range, but he does a very good job of delivering the movie’s comedic lines. Additionally, his chemistry with actress Maripier Morin is great. Morin is excellent on her own too, giving a performance that shows her to have the potential to break out.
It is on a technical level that the film is most disappointing, but it is still rather strong. For a movie that has such an ambitious script, you would hope that the execution would be equally ambitious. Instead, the film is mostly straightforward and even somewhat messy at times. For example, there are a few zooms that feel quite out-of-place and ineffective.
The Fall of the American Empire is an extremely entertaining satire with a lot to say about upper class society. Although the sarcastic and deadpan nature of the movie may not appeal to everyone, this film deserves much more attention than it is getting.
The Fall of the American Empire is now playing in select theaters.