The Fall of the American Empire

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This is the type of set-up I love for a film, when it’s done right. Remember the scene in Boogie Nights where Don Cheadle is turned down for a bank loan and later goes to a donut shop that is robbed? Everyone inside is shot and killed, and as he stands there scared and bloodied, he notices the bag of money on the ground and decides to take it. Well, that’s what Pierre-Paul (Alexandre Landry, reminding me of Jesse Eisenberg) does. But instead of opening a stereo store (like Cheadle’s character), he decides to play Robin Hood. You see, he’s a volunteer for various homeless shelters and that’s an issue that’s important to him. He also knows that having a few million dollars lying around might be more useful if properly invested. So when he sees a middle-aged biker/money launderer that’s recently released from prison (Remy Girard, a Denys Arcand regular), they team up.

Pierre-Paul isn’t the easiest character to like. In the opening scene, we see him breaking up with his girlfriend (Florence Longpre) while sounding like a pretentious twit. He’s pontificating about intelligence, philosophy, writers, and how he’s too smart to be rich. He may have a Ph.D. in philosophy, but he makes more money as a delivery driver than if he taught at a university in Montreal. It’s during one of his deliveries that he comes across a robbery gone wrong, and he pockets the bags of money that have literally fallen at his feet. The cops arrive, ask him a few questions, and he’s on his way.

He spends some of his windfall on a high end escort (Maripier Morin). Aside from the fact that she’s gorgeous, he likes that on her profile she uses the name Aspasie (for all you philistines, in ancient Greece she was a rumored prostitute and the lover of Pericles). Yeah, there’s going to be a lot of references to Socrates, Aurelius, and Wittgenstein, but it doesn’t overwhelm the film. If you don’t know the difference between Wittgenstein or Weinstein, you’ll be just fine.

You think it would just be the criminals that lost the money that come snooping around. It seems Pierre-Paul is having more problems with the two detectives (the beautiful Maxim Roy and always suspicious looking Louise Morissette). They wisely suspect he has the money and they start following him. This guy might be book smart, but he is rather naive when it comes to crime. And that’s what keeps you on the edge of your seat.

There are a few unrealistic things in the movie, but nothing so over-the-top that it takes you out of the picture. Sure, we’ve seen the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold cliche a million times, but we can buy her starting to fall for this hapless schlub.

A lot of the side characters you meet are interesting. There’s a famous, billionaire financial magnate that also gets involved with the money. There are various criminals that are getting antsy to get their cash back (although it’s weird that we’re hearing it belonged to the Jewish and Irish mobs; Is this the turn of the century?). And, the one guy (Patrick Emmanuel Abellard) that survived the initial robbery…is going to suffer a much worse fate.

All of the various scheming makes this a lot of fun to watch.

The chemistry of the two main characters, and the somewhat jaded Montreal detectives, works well.

Listening to the main character bitch about things (“for generations, my family’s been poor”), in my eyes, doesn’t excuse his involvement in this crime. I felt the same way in the much better movie Hell or High Water, which dealt with a few of these same themes.

This was beautifully shot by Van Royko (Let There Be Light), but he should’ve talked the director out of the final scene.

One of the many disappointing things about Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman, was a dopey scene where he shows close-ups of various people at a black power meeting, with swirling kaleidoscope visuals around their head. Well, this movie ends with a series of homeless people shown staring into the camera. Huh? Did we just watch a film noir heist, with Robin Hood elements, or a Michael Moore documentary? Arcand wanted to turn this into a statement about homelessness with a visual PSA at the end. Please. Get preachy somewhere else, or…perhaps do a documentary on the homeless and stick that scene in there.  We already had to deal with a movie that got heavy-handed and preachy with all the talk about how much CEOs make, the middle-class workers being screwed, the amount of homeless, police being accused of keeping money they confiscate, etc. Luckily, that stuff wasn’t enough to ruin the movie. Yet after this, The Big Short, and The Hate U Give — hopefully filmmakers will give us a break on the civic lessons. Unless there’s going to be a quiz after the movie, just let us be entertained for a few hours. Thankfully, this movie still did that.

It still gets 3 stars out of 5.



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