VOD film review: American Heist
The getaway driving0
Mark Harrison | On 25, Jun 2015Reading time: 5 mins
Director: Sarik Andreasyan
Cast: Adrien Brody, Hayden Christensen, Jordana Brewster, Tory Kittles and Akon
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Most of the appeal of heist movies lies in the build-up. From Ocean’s 11 to Inception, it’s about watching characters who are the best at what they do, even if what they do isn’t exactly legal, clubbing together to make an ingenious plan, then (usually) adapting to all of the stuff that goes wrong.
This is the kind of competence that eludes the characters of American Heist, the first in an eleven-picture venture from Hayden and Tove Christensen’s Glacier Films production company. Hayden Christensen will be best known to film fans as Anakin Skywalker in the last two Star Wars prequels, now moving forward in his career as a producer.
If only he hadn’t decided to be in it as well, he might have solved half of the wrinkles in his freshman feature. The film is a loose remake of the 1959 movie The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery, which starred Steve McQueen as a college dropout hired as a getaway driver. In case it wasn’t glaringly obvious by now that Christensen is no Steve McQueen, he plays James “Jimmy” Kelly, who finds himself in similar circumstances when his brother Frankie (Brody) is released from prison.
With unbelievable selfishness, Frankie quickly press-gangs his brother, also an ex-con, into being a getaway driver for the gang who gave him protection in prison. Sugar (Akon) and Ray (Tory Kittles) are planning to knock over a bank in the coming week and are prepared to shatter Jimmy’s existence all over again, jeopardising his rekindled relationship with old flame Emily, (Jordana Brewster) unless he and Frankie take part in the job.
At certain points in American Heist, you want either Sugar or Ray (who are the butt of the obvious Leonard joke early on in a way that’s played as if they’ve genuinely never heard that before) to make a Henry Jones Sr.-esque aside along the lines of “We should’ve gone on a heist with the Marx brothers”. Jimmy and Frankie are absolutely useless.
Brody’s hysterical performance and cartoonish swagger throughout the film belies the fact that he’s clearly here for the pay-check. Like his character, he can’t resist acting like a damn fool instead of just taking the money and running. This includes a declaration involving a tube of toothpaste that will be roundly and deservingly mocked as soon as it hits YouTube.
Meanwhile, Jimmy is more concerned with being the audience’s POV than a getaway driver, leaving the car on more than one occasion to go and see what’s going on, right as they need to be making a quick escape – or generally doing the opposite of what getaway drivers are meant to do. Christensen can’t sell the notion that he’s a hyper-competent gear-head on the level of Ryan Gosling in Drive, nor the laughably tacked-on fact that he served in Iraq, because the robbery requires him to have some explosives expertise too.
On the other hand, it’s totally believable that Jimmy has done time – you can see how he would get caught in a heartbeat. He dates Brewster’s police call dispatcher and picks her up in stolen cars. Luckily, Emily thinks nothing of the fact that his sports car is hot-wired, because she doesn’t have to be smart to be a character in this movie.
While Sugar and Ray are the cleverest, they have little to back up the reverence owed to them as the biggest gangsters in the city, making dunderheaded but photogenic decisions like holding people at gunpoint in cemeteries in broad daylight. They’re also representative of the film’s infantile political subtext. This is the most blatant case of a film shooting in post-Katrina New Orleans for the tax incentive, but American Heist even draws attention to that in an otherwise placeless pot-boiler; Jimmy can’t get a small business loan in a scene where he looks like a kid dressed in his dad’s suit (“You’re predatory lenders, so prey on me!”) and Ray gets a bunch of high-handed monologues about how war is an extension of economics and he’s doing this for the people, even as he guns down innocent bystanders in cold blood.
Like his character, Christensen has priors for this kind of post-recession offence. At least in 2010’s unaccountable US box office hit Takers, he was only culpable for his own performance and didn’t take such a large part in the production. His co-stars are also accessories to the crime, with both Brody and Akon taking executive producer credits alongside the Christensens.
On the plus side, director Sarik Andreasyan and cinematographer Antonio Calvache do a terrific job of keeping the camera livelier than anything it captures. There are some beautifully composed shots, especially during the otherwise risible heist sequence, and plenty of eye-catching choices and angles leading up to the finale.
Like the best movie heists, American Heist goes wrong, despite its best laid plans. With such craven adherence to the tropes of the crime genre, it should have been idiot-proof. Alas, it’s not enough for it to be derivative: it had to be dumb, dull and terribly performed to boot.
American Heist is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.