'The Fall of the American Empire' – falls short in every way

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

“The Fall of the American Empire” does only one thing well: fall apart.

Gracelessly. Stupidly. And without a shred of self-awareness.

Movie poster of “The Fall of the American Empire”

The Canadian director Denys Arcand, who may be one of the most pompous and annoying filmmakers in the northern hemisphere, has concocted a cretinous crime caper that seems strung together from bits and pieces of every ‘70s cop show ever made.

The protagonist is a self-infatuated nebbish named Pierre-Paul (Alexandre Landry) who works as a delivery boy because his degree in philosophy apparently makes him too smart to do anything else (something like that). Or maybe nobody else would pay him.

Anyway, luck turns his way when Pierre-Paul just happens to be in the right place at the right time. He tries to make a delivery in the middle of an armed robbery. While the bad guys — apparently, it’s dirty money — shoot at each other, he’s left holding the bag. Two bags, actually, both bursting with bucks.

What’s a philosopher to do? Pierre-Paul takes the cash home and immediately dials up a high-end prostitute (Maripeier Morin) he finds on-line. His reason, in part, is that she goes by the name Aspasie (one of Socrates’ lovers for those of us not as smart as Pierre-Paul — or Arcand).

A scene from the crime thriller “The Fall of the American Empire”

Well, quelle surprise! She turns out to be a hooker with a heart d’or.  They team up with a recently released money launderer (Remy Girard, an Arcand regular) and a financial wizard who knows how to move money around (The point being, rich white guys routinely can get away with this while poor low-end crooks of color can’t.)

Arcand’s brand of mushy liberalism has always bugged me. And here it’s tied to stick-figure characters and a cliched heist plot that was tired decades ago.

One thing I never quite figured out. The movie is set in Montreal, so why is it the fall of the American Empire? I guess everything really is Trump’s fault.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

1 reply
  1. Avatar
    J Mcintyre says:

    Rather completely misunderstood it. To each his own. The NYT had a fairer understanding of this complex little gem:

    "With its galloping pace and strange criminal bedfellows, this funny and engrossing film sometimes feels like the droll capers of the Ealing studio (maker of "The Lavender Hill Mob" among other small classics). But Arcand packs in a lot of pointed social and political commentary. Including a demonstration of how, when you want to commit a really complicated crime, you are best off seeking capitalism itself as an ends to accomplish it — entirely legally."Report

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