AMERICAN VIOLENCE (2017)

February 4, 2017

american-violence Greetings again from the darkness. Making a political statement is nothing new for movies; however, if a filmmaker takes a stance on a controversial issue, the final product needs to be insightful and compelling in order to make a difference. Seemingly intent on making a mockery of the death penalty, director Timothy Woodward Jr delivers little more than a B-movie with a hyper-serious tone, but a script that is at times laughably off the mark.

Even before the opening credits roll, we get our first brutal murder … just moments after persnickety Bruce Dern belittles his wife over the sandwich she made for him. Next up, Dr. Amanda Tyler (Denise Richards) is being asked by the Assistant District Attorney to consult on the case of a death row inmate, to determine if a stay of execution should be granted. See, Dr. Tyler is a criminal psychologist. Yes, she’s played by Denise Richards. If this causes you frightening flashbacks to Ms. Richards’ role as a physicist in The World is Not Enough, then you begin to have some idea what this movie is like.

The inmate is Jackson Shea (a formidable Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau) and as he tells his life story, we are provided scenes that explain how he got to this point. It’s a pretty interesting backstory starting with sleazy Uncle Mike, an alcoholic mother, and a seemingly endless array of circumstance that might have formed the basis of a better movie.

You will note many familiar faces along the way: Michael Pare as Shea’s partner, Patrick Kilpatrick as a criminal kingpin, Johnny Messner as a fellow criminal, and Emma Rigby as Shea’s love interest. For you football fans, you’ll likely reminisce about Brian Boswell when you witness Rob Gronkowski as a gun-toting bodyguard.

All of this could have been good criminal fun if we weren’t being incessantly slapped upside the head with the anti-Death Penalty message … how trading death for death isn’t appropriate, and for tilting the scales to show how criminals are basically good guys who accidentally end up in a bad spot thanks to a broken system and culture of violence. It’s all a bit too heavy-handed and self-righteous, taking away some of the joy in chuckling at Ms. Richards playing it straight as an intellectual idealist.

watch the trailer: