American Murderer is a thriller based on conman Jason Derek Brown (Tom Pelphrey, Ozark) and the attempts of FBI special agent Lance Leising (Ryan Phillippe, Gosford Park) to capture him. As Leising tries to piece together the fugitive’s past, Brown is on the run from it. Will law enforcement capture Brown before it is too late?
Based on a true story, the film follows the basic structure of a true crime documentary. Interviews conducted by Leising take the place of talking heads while flashbacks serve as reenactments. American Murderer carefully walks the audience through each moment and revelation. However, the movie is not an alternate history, which means there are really no twists to guide anyone through. One of the hooks of true crime is the twisting narrative while American Murderer tells a very straightforward story. There are some occasional flashbacks to the past, but it is a very linear tale.
American Murderer introduces subplots that never go anywhere. The most noticeable involves Brown’s father. There are lots of potentially interesting ideas that are never fleshed out. He is mentioned haphazardly throughout the film and each time it seems like it is important. Nothing ever comes of any of it. Thankfully, it is more forgettable than disappointing.
Pelphrey saves things from being a completely unmemorable watch. He gives Brown a contagious energy that is fun to watch. The charisma that allowed him to scam people comes off the screen. What makes the performance work so well is despite Brown’s charm, he never becomes a character audiences will want to root for. He is fascinating to watch because he is a train wreck waiting to happen.
In the end, American Murderer is like a beta version of a true crime documentary. It has all the ingredients such as interviews and history, but it is not as fleshed out or sensational. The plot is able to generate some suspense on its own, but it lacks the flair to put it over the top. Pelphrey is the stand out in an otherwise humdrum affair.
American Murderer comes to digital and On Demand October 28
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