AMERICAN HANGMAN (2019)


 Greetings again from the darkness.  Two men are kidnapped, bound and gagged, and dragged into a secure basement. Soon enough, the disoriented men (and we as viewers) realize this is to be a trial conducted via social media – and the stakes are very real. Writer-Director Wilson Coneybeare presents the kidnapper as a quiet dude with an intricately well-designed, though quite demented, set-up.

Ron (Paul Braunstein) and the ironically named Judge Straight (Donald Sutherland) are the two men held captive, while Henry David Cole (Vincent Kartheiser, “Mad Men”) is their captor. Ron is the high strung type who constantly threatens Cole despite being handcuffed and otherwise tortured. The Judge, on the other hand, remains calm and composed as he tries to reason with his captor … and even talk some sense into Ron. Despite the circumstances, we find a bit of humor in Ron’s bull-headedness and his frantic comparisons to the movie SAW, which of course the Judge has never seen. On a side note, Paul Braunstein actually appeared in JIGSAW (one of the SAW sequels).

Cole begins the live broadcast via social media and we periodically see the graphics for time (go live at 1:11pm) and counter of viewers tuned in. Also tuning in are the local cops led by a retiring police lieutenant (Oliver Dennis) and a detective (Joanne Boland), and a top notch hacker (Jess Salguiero). Cole’s basement set up includes numerous computers and cameras strategically placed around the room. His own moves are choreographed in a manner that keeps his face from being seen on social media. The Judge and Ron see him (and his awful haircut), as do we as viewers.

An ambitious news reporter is working her own contacts, but much of the suspense occurs inside the basement. It takes a while to unfold, but we soon understand Cole’s thought process and why he believes a publicly broadcast trial makes sense. Some of the issues touched upon include a justice system that is “ignorant, corrupt and blood thirsty”, as well as the power and peril of the news media and social media. As the public “votes” online for guilt or innocence, all parties end up in full-throttle CYA mode by the end of the film … and that may be the biggest statement here. It’s a decent little thriller that surprisingly generates some thought.

watch the trailer:

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