Writer-director Alessio Della Valle’s American Night sets its sights on being a neo-noir Pulp Fiction for the modern age. Its non-linear structure told in three chapters tells the interconnected story of an art-loving mafioso (Emile Hersch) and a playboy art collector (Johnathan Rhys Meyer), as they vie for possession of a stolen painting, and the impact on the lives of anyone else caught up in the ensuing chaos. From a roster of brilliantly weird characters (including a narcoleptic courier and a disenfranchised martial artist), offbeat setting and breakneck pace that hurls viewers through New York’s art underworld, this flick had everything it needed to be a bombastic genre outing. Unfortunately, none of its pieces manage to fit together as intended, which makes for rough and disjointed viewing.
One thing this film nails is its aesthetic: Valle has crafted an exceedingly cool atmosphere of art galleries, neon street signs and shady back alleys. The use of tracks like Wolfmother’s Joker and the Thief and Blondie’s Heart of Glass give the feature a tantalising pulpy flavour that’s comparable to a Tarantino soundtrack. Sequences of characters singing along to the car radio and playing songs from a bar’s jukebox also take direct influence from the multi-Oscar-winning filmmaker. But this is where the Tarantino comparisons end for American Night.
Unlike Pulp Fiction, in which all the interwoven plot threads are masterfully stitched together, American Night’s non-linear narrative is far less refined. The action jumps between characters and timelines so recklessly that audiences can expect to completely lose track of the plot around halfway into this two-hour thriller. And this is despite the script’s attempt to anchor the narrative by returning to a handful of repeated scenes. The cohesion just isn’t there.
Alongside the messy narrative, the presentation and performances are equally as rough around the edges. Action scenes don’t carry much punch or weight behind them, and most of the performances come across as stiff and unnatural. Had the editing and dialogue had a bit more polished, then the final product could have been vastly better.
If Pulp Fiction is the masterwork, American Night is the ambitious counterfeit.
American Night is released digitally on demand on 7th February 2022.
Watch the trailer for American Night here: