Movie review: Crime thriller American Heist simply not that arresting

Hayden Christensen (left) and Adrien Brody play two brothers in a testy love-hate relationship in American Heist.
Hayden Christensen (left) and Adrien Brody play two brothers in a testy love-hate relationship in American Heist.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

A brother uses emotional blackmail to get his younger sibling to commit a bank robbery which turns tedious

Review: Crime thriller

AMERICAN HEIST (M18)

95 minutes/Opens tomorrow/ 2/5

The story: After committing a crime with his older brother Frankie, who takes the rap for it, James (Hayden Christensen) tries to stay on the straight and narrow by working in a car repair shop. When Frankie (Adrien Brody) gets released from prison, though, he gets pulled into a bank heist job. James is reluctant, but the fates of his girlfriend Emily (Jordana Brewster) and Frankie are on the line.

This crime thriller is based on the 1959 film The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery. But it also seems to be influenced by the more recent The Town (2010).

In that hold-up flick which Ben Affleck co-wrote, directed and starred in, lifelong friendships in the Charlestown neighbourhood of Boston are tested when pressure mounts on a gang of robbers.

As a testosterone-heavy tale of greed gone awry, it is superior to the New Orleans-set American Heist, where the testy love-hate relationship between brothers James and Frankie is central.

Heist does not make much use of its setting, a pity considering New Orleans' rich and distinctive culture.

The characters are flawed, but not in a way that makes them compelling. James is just too gullible. Asked to meet an "investor" together with his brother's shady pals in the middle of the night and all he can muster up is: "I got a bad feeling about this."

His romantic interest Emily (Brewster) just happens to work as a dispatch officer for the cops, which means she conveniently gets to hear first-hand what unfolds at the stick-up via police radio transmissions.

At least, Brody (Dragon Blade, 2015) turns Frankie into the scumbag you love to hate - a none-too-competent weasel whose main skill seems to be using emotional blackmail on his younger brother.

The heist itself is not very exciting, which is rather a let-down considering the grand-sounding title. It also gets increasingly tedious and ludicrous as the bank job gets stretched into an extended finale.

Armenian film-maker Sarik Andreasyan (That Was The Men's World, 2013) squeezes in some fancy point-of-view sequences, but they feel showy and seem unnecessary.

Despite the effort, American Heist is simply not that arresting.

bchan@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2015, with the headline 'Heist with many lows'. Print Edition | Subscribe