American Hero (2015)

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As both an Englishman and a lover of inadvertent comedy, I feel duty-bound, whenever I see the name Nick Love, to share this clip from the DVD commentary to “Outlaw” of Love and star Danny Dyer, definitely not coked up to the gills, discussing what a classic their movie is and how it’ll come to be regarded as a socially important work. God love the pair of them.

Love has directed a very American film, but clearly someone further up the monetary food chain was less than thrilled with the finished product, so we’re given a very misleading trailer, with scenes edited out of order and the comedy element played way up. What you’d expect to be a light story of a loveable loser finally using his powers for good after suffering a heart attack is altogether darker. Stephen Dorff is Melvin, a drug-taking, hard-partying but ultimately decent low-level criminal who’s had telekinetic abilities since as long as he can remember. His family and friends tolerate it with good humour; this includes his best friend / foster brother Lucille (Eddie Griffin), who’s been in a wheelchair since getting shot in the back while serving in the Army. We start with Melvin losing visitation rights to his son in a court case; from then on it’s partying and aimlessly wandering the streets, until a heart attack makes him realise his life is a joke. So he decides to straighten up, train, and take responsibility for making his locality a better place, which mostly involves a group of drug dealers who live in one of the city’s many derelict apartment blocks.

 

The movie is framed like a documentary, and about halfway through I was pretty impressed with the way Love has managed to nail both the look and feel of those American indie movies and documentaries, with the washed out colours, the long music-backed scenes, and the progression of the plot – an enthusiastic thumbs up to him for doing his homework (or hiring an extremely good cinematographer). Although, as the movie goes on, you begin to notice a few scenes that the crew either wouldn’t have been allowed to film or wouldn’t have been able to, such as when Melvin falls off the wagon, buys some cocaine and take it to his friend’s house, where they all do it and party with what looks like a group of prostitutes. Perhaps everyone signed their releases? I don’t know, but the scene where a gunfight takes place and the cameraman calmly films it without cover of any kind is a bit farfetched if we’re buying the documentary concept.

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It’s set in New Orleans, and one thing Love doesn’t shy away from is showing how tough it’s been for the residents of that city, post Katrina. Everyone’s broke and living in tiny, cheap buildings, but on the other hand it’s not disaster tourism. There’s not that aspiration for bigger toys or more luxurious homes but there’s a lot of love for neighbours and friends. I like the people in this movie. But alongside all that there’s the story of the characters, and how dark it gets. Lucille gets shot in retaliation for Melvin’s first attempt to fight the drug dealers, and we see a lot of Melvin in turmoil over his life and how he’s wasting it, his lost relationship with his son and so on.

 

We’re  definitely being sold “Hancock” and not what it is – a low key indie drama-comedy about a man whose life is falling apart, and happens to have superpowers. A lot of its negative reaction (low ratings on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes) seem to come from people saying “why was I tricked into watching this?” The scenes of him using his powers are really good, too, with surprisingly realistic-looking special effects. He tears a building apart to get to the drug dealers; slowly pulls the roof off a house while sat bored on a park bench; levitates Lucille to get money from tourists (as well as helping him hit on women using his powers). But it’s not really about his powers, or being special, it’s about him realising he has responsibilities. The story is a very human, if rather OTT at times one, and Dorff does really well with his perpetually dishevelled look, and Griffin as the conscience / morality.

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It’s a little over the top, the ending is (probably deliberately) confusing, and too much of it goes nowhere, but ultimately it’s got a good heart and it’s quite an interesting take on a story. It’s sort of interesting that he hid his power so completely, if a trifle implausible. Surely there’d be some proper scientist or government person wanting to experiment on him? Especially after the “documentary” movie came out? Ah well, small potatoes.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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