THE AMERICAN SIDE is the latest film from director Jenna Rickers and it stars an all-star cast that includes Greg Stuhr (“Mercy”), Camilla Belle (WHEN A STRANGER CALLS), Matthew Broderick (GLORY), Robert Forster (MULHOLLAND DRIVE), Janeane Garofalo (“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”) and Alicja Bachleda (THE GIRL IS IN TROUBLE). The story centers around a low-rent shady detective (Greg Stuhr) who tries to unravel a mystery after his partner-in-crime is caught in the cross-hairs of a blackmail scheme. Unbeknownst to him, the mystery goes further than just blackmail as it involves a secret design created by the enigmatic genius Nikolas Tesla.
On paper, THE AMERICAN SIDE seems like an intriguing neo-noir thriller, and at times it is, but overall the film falls flat. With such a cast, one would expect that acting to be on point, but a lot of times the acting felt forced and too over the top. Greg Stuhr, who plays the private eye, Charlie Paczynski, wasn’t what I had in mind for this type of film. When I think of a neo-noir thriller and a detective who can woo the ladies, I think of character who is damaged but strong-willed, all around attractive, and hell bent on solving the case. Though Stuhr’s character was hell-bent on getting to the root of the mystery, and finding out what happened to his partner, he wasn’t believable in this role. I haven’t been able to put my finger on what it was about him that just seemed off - he is a good actor and he did just fine - but I think this may be a case where casting was off. It wasn’t just Stuhr’s character either. Matthew Broderick is known for being an incredible actor both on and off Broadway as well as in television and movies but in THE AMERICAN SIDE his character didn’t match up with Broderick’s persona. Broderick’s character, Borden Chase, is supposed to be nefarious and sneaky but instead we as the viewer are more focused on Broderick’s boyish looks and innocence. His character wasn’t given the meat that it deserved to be stronger suited for this type of film.
Acting aside, the story was interesting but where it falters is due to the complexity of it. You have to be paying extremely close attention to what is going on or you will be lost. I’m still trying to wrap my head around all the plot twists and characters but luckily I was able to understand the majority of what they were trying to get across. In recent years I’ve become a fan of neo-noir thrillers so I enjoyed seeing this theme played out on screen and I feel like there has been a huge resurgence of this type of film. The only issue I had with it was it seemed to walk that fine line of being a bit too cheesy. When it comes to the cinematography, this was one of the film’s strongest points. The backdrop of Niagara Falls was absolutely breathtaking, and in a way became a character of it’s own. The shots of Buffalo, NY all had a hazy yellow tint to it that I found myself really enjoying as well as shots of the surrounding areas of the American side of Niagara Falls (see what I did there?).
Overall, I felt like this film had a lot of potential but just fell short. I think that had the enveloped been pushed more and a lot of of the roles recast, this could have been a solid film with an even stronger plot. I did like that the director used a lot of actors from the Buffalo, NY area which added to the authenticity of the story, I just wished the actors had been the right ones for their characters. The beauty of the scenery, the intrigue of the Nikolas Tesla plot, and the all-star cast were what sold me on wanting to watch this film, I just wished it had lived up to my expectations.