Crime/Drama/Thriller | Saban Films | 102m | Rated: R
Written and Directed By: Matthew Gentile
Starring: Tom Pelphrey, Idina Menzel, Ryan Phillippe, Shantel VanSanten, Paul Schneider, Moises Arias, Kevin Corrigan
Synopsis: The true story of Jason Derek Brown – a bold and cunning conman who scams to fuel his lifestyle while eventually lands him on the FBI’s top ten fugitive list. Who is still at large to this day.
I was genuinely impressed with Gentile’s work in his first full feature film as he balances the character study of Brown, the FBI investigation, and Brown’s criminal journey with a relatively smooth flow. There are a few timelines that do an effective job of dropping in pieces of the overall narrative with an engaging pace. The film doesn’t waste time as it begins exploring the life of Brown and his ability to maneuver seemingly any con. We see the FBI is already onto him. And layers of Brown’s early life are woven in as well and it’s all attention grabbing as to how everything will play out.
American Murderer doesn’t necessarily do anything new in this genre, but the capability of the filmmaking, and the source material make it a surprisingly compelling film fueled by the lead performance from Tom Pelphrey who kills it in this role. He’s as easily likable, as he is a person you can almost immediately feel is a bit sketchy. He’s one of those guys who can break down barriers with his charisma. He was able to live off his ability to manipulate people and as this film explores these themes Pelphrey captures it all naturally. He’s charming, but also a bit sadistic. Pelphrey embodies this all with ease to lure you in and the escalation of his intensity as his actions catch up with him was riveting in places because of his performance.
Pelphrey capably carries this film on his shoulders with an all-in performance that can easily entice you. And he’s given a solid supporting cast to fill in the gaps. Menzel delivers an appealing performance as one of Brown’s victims. With Phillippe bringing more than enough screen presence to fill the shoes of the FBI agent on Brown’s tail. However, this did lead to some of the issues I had. It is effective as a character study of Brown’s criminal activity and the life events that fueled his criminal instincts. Yet, when this movie attempts to be a crime thriller, and the tried and true, ‘agent on the search for a criminal’ story elements kick in they feel a bit tacked on and formulaic.
I almost forgot that Phillippe was in this movie at times. I think more of a cat-and-mouse balance to his case, his searching for clues, and the pursuit overall, would’ve made these sections of the movie a bit more interesting. Instead, these scenes take up time that could have been spent exploring more of Brown’s childhood timeline to explore more of what makes this guy tick. Regardless, American Murderer is an attention-grabbing movie that seeds curiosity right out of the gate. Then slowly lays out the rest of the story from there and it leads to a pleasantly immersive viewing experience as the stakes escalate and the tension rises in a story so brazen it feels like something from a movie, not from real life.
Anthony J. Digioia II © 2022 SilverScreen Analysis. All Rights Reserved.