Few themes represent Americana like the pursuit of one’s dreams. A mantra of blind hopefulness often drives people to their breaking point in order to accomplish the so-called “American Dream“. This universal conceit acts as a narrative crux for several big-screen endeavors, including the latest crime/thriller American Dream. Similar to the blunt title, Dream sloppily handles universal sentiments in a misguided borefest.
American Dream follows Nicky (Michael Huisman) and Scott (Luke Bracey), two American entrepreneurs on the verge of losing their apartment complex. After trying to secure a deal with wildcard Yuri (Nick Stahl), the two face the wrath of a scorned mobster who sets out to destroy their livelihoods.
Two-time Oscar-winner Janusz Kaminski served as the visual lens behind Steven Spielberg’s best films (Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List). Now, the famed cinematographer slums his talents as a director-for-hire for this routine VOD pulp fest. Kaminski admittedly creates a pleasing visual aesthetic, his dingey lighting and intimate framing convey the flurry of angst and anger facing Nicky and Scott on their odyssey.
He may show his visual expertise, but Kaminski lacks tactfulness in his shallow approach. The director never engages with the material’s thoughtful conceits, often allowing screenwriters Mark Wheaton and Duncan Brantley’s heavy-handed dialogue to take center stage. Some scenes awkwardly strain themselves in the process, straddling the relatively talented cast with clunky archetypes to work with (Bracey and Huisman share lived-in chemistry while Stahl serves as a fittingly unhinged advisory). None of the simplistic elements land with the authenticity or verve required for the material to stay afloat.
I can get down with a taunt, relentlessly paced thriller, even if it’s lacking in substantive dynamics. That being said, Kaminski’s overly-machismo delivery lands in uncomfortably exploitative territory. American Dream props up its cruel rivalry as Yuri commits senseless acts throughout the running time. Most of these acts degrade the film’s thinly-developed female characters, throwing them through the wringer only to serve as hapless victims. The dated mean-streak often taints any enjoyment from Kaminski’s straightforward yarn.
Destined to be forgotten amongst a wave of VOD titles, American Dream represents bottom of the barrel contrivances for the crime thriller genre.
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