American Night review – hot mess of an art-world thriller with a Tarantino-esque edge | Movies


Erotic body painting, deadly scorpions, Italian futurism, a ninja stuntman, a Warholian MacGuffin, the singer Anastacia, not one organised-crime faction but four: incorporating all the above and more, this art world-set thriller told non-linear-style believes it’s a scrambled cubist masterpiece. But in truth it is closer to an abstract expressionist hot mess, as writer-director Alessio Della Valle splatters his canvas with everything he can lay his hands on and sees what sticks.

As if he’s force-feeding us the whole of Pulp Fiction in the first 15 minutes, Della Valle initially hops between three characters homing in on the botched exchange of a stolen print of Andy Warhol’s Pink Marilyn: a failed stuntman and would-be courier (Jeremy Piven), his high-class art dealer brother (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and a shoddy bagman (Fortunato Cerlino). But goons sent by Emile Hirsch’s junior mafia don – who wants his artwork back – seize the wrong package. The ensuing mayhem lets Della Valle erratically collage even more elements: Meyers’ dodgy counterfeiting past; his smoking-hot affair with a Spanish restorer (Paz Vega); Hirsch’s Michael Corleone-esque misgivings about the family trade and artistic aspirations (he likes firing his assault rifle at his easel); Michael Madsen, included for reasons indeterminate, with a voice like a dodgy motorbike throttle.

The plot is semi-incomprehensible, but the fragmented effect is not unpleasing. It isn’t capable, though, of carrying American Night’s intellectual pretensions, which are signposted in chapter titles such as “Art + Life”. What this gaudy rampage feels like is a commentary on the covetousness and inflationary madness of the art market itself. It’s telling that, beyond brash slogans and some gangster-film freeze frames, Della Valle’s film has no discernible style, with uncertain camerawork and attempts at Tarantino-esque black comedy – such as Cerlino’s narcoleptic bagman – getting lost in the chaos. Rhys-Meyers brings some substance, with his sophisticate’s gravelly tones suggesting despair behind the veneer. And even if American Night flirts constantly with ludicrousness, it is never boring.

American Night is available on digital platforms on 7 February.

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