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Thread: AMERICAN NIGHT (Alessio Della Valle

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    AMERICAN NIGHT (Alessio Della Valle 2021)



    A ruthless mafioso with artistic ambitions

    American Night seems a misguided picture in that most of the way its two art-related plot lines never quite convincingly coalesce. They revolve around Emile Hirsch as a mafia scion with artistic ambitions - he throws paint cans at canvas and then shoots it full of holes - and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as an art forger who also attempts to run a gallery and winds up on the cover of Time as "the rock star of contemporary art." Michael Rubino (Hirsch) is frustrated. A female expert without knowing who it's by opines that one of his paintings would be "a good investment," "even better if the artist is young." But once he inherits the capo mantle from his dead father the rank and file ask him to stop doing artwork because "it projects weakness."

    John Kaplan (Meyers) has tough times too. His dear girlfriend Sarah (Paz Vega), who it was who had admired young Rubino's painting, catches John sleeping with another woman, he has serious unpaid bills, and his gallery falls victim to a terrible disaster right after he has made a big sale that will permit him to pay off his worst debt. He cries. It is hard, though, to see where all this is going. A thread of sorts may be the Warhol. Oh, did I forget to mention it? In an early scene the elder Rubino tells his son not "some day all this will be yours," but that some day he will inherit a surprising, not very mafioso heirloom: an Andy pink Marylyn painting ("it ees the seembol of our empire"). And then this disappears and the heir urgently sets someone to find it. Maybe John Kaplan can help? But there is a menacing Michael Madsen (whose inexplicable name is Lord Samuel Morgan) and a nervous, sometimes giddy, gray-haired courier known as Shaky (Fortunato Cerlino) who brings something poisonous.

    Somehow the resilient John Kaplan (Meyers doing a good America voice, and unlike his last picture, Yakuza Princess, playing a character who knows who he is) survives a huge explosion at his gallery and meets a promising new artist: Michael Rubino. The mafia capo heir hasn't taken his minions' advice. Art means just as much to him, it would seem, as being a cosa nostra boss. Let that be a lesson to us all.

    These are almost childishly fantastic, juicy roles for both Meyers and Hirsch, were they not so underwritten. Women in this film are very decorative; sometimes purely so, sometimes otherwise accomplished or functional as well. Not very liberated, though they are arbitrarily at times free with F-words, in periods of vulgarity that inexplicably come and go.

    A redeeming feature is the visuals, which are handsome, if artificial - tastefully lurid, shall we say? Colors are rich and glowing. There is a generous supply of evening scenes, as the title requires, focused as are the daytime moments as well on the SoHo section of Manhattan and decorated by flashes of deep red neon. Some of the night scenes take place at the eponymous nightclub, American Night, whose high fašade is resplendent in glowing blue and red. Amid the colorful scenes, a pink Marilyn appears, though it seems shrunken from the one in the earlier scene, a poster version, perhaps, of the large screen-painted original. A film about art should be clearer about mediums and measurements than this, and not have an art "expert" (Kaplan) refer to what is obviously a print as a "painting." All that's left is eye candy: Rubino at least has a striking black-lit pad full of vaguely suggestive masterpieces of modern art and featuring sculptures in cases rimmed with red neon. Garish, but cool, a good setting for a final shootout.
    Things get crazier, and more like a thriller, at last, in this slapdash film. John Kaplan has had his day on screen and now it's Michael Rubino's turn. There's a crowd in the street wearing spooky white masks (one colorful scene variation too many?). Kaplan's brother Vincent (Jeremy Piven), an out of work stunt double and Bruce Lee admirer who wants to flow like water as his master advised, jumps from a building blindfolded - ouch! Rubino kidnaps Sarah - after bumping off all the capi of all the other leading mafia families when they come to pay their respects at his father's internment. "First, I never believed in oligarchy," he explains. "I prefer old school - just one ruthless leader: me. Second, I don't want to hear anyone criticize my art." His fondness for scorpions turns out to be dangerous for some.

    The director is Italian, from Florence, and has studied film, theater, and music in multiple countries, worked for media companies - Fox, Mtv, Rai, Disney - and directed a production of La Fanciulla del West in Los Angeles. He appears to be directing his first feature here. It's operatic, colorful, and over the top. He could have used some help with the writing.

    American Night, 123 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 6, 2021; US release from Lionsgate Entertainment Oct. 1, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-07-2021 at 01:41 PM.


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