The title of “The Fall of the American Empire” implies a few things — namely that the film will involve some sort of decline and that it will be, in some degree, about the United States. Neither of these things are true in the case of this film. Rather, it’s a shallow, middling heist movie masquerading as a flaccid pseudo-thriller about the corrupting power of money.
There’s nothing like starting a movie with a stilted philosophical discussion to set off a chain of increasingly droll and grating scenes. One half of this blasé film’s initial philosophizing duo is Pierre-Paul (Alexandre Landry), the wettest of the wet blankets in a laundry pile of drippy characters. He is a man so emotionally constipated he can’t tell his girlfriend he loves her, only quoting other thinkers while simultaneously calling Dostoyevsky and Hemingway “unintelligent.”
It’s barely even worth mentioning the sounding board to his empty quotations in this opening exchange, as it’s an ex-girlfriend of his who is among the many women given little to no agency or purpose in this film. This initial scene sets the tone for the film — it attempts to make grandiose philosophical claims while remaining by and large a shallow exercise in pretentiousness.
In the first sequences of the film, Pierre-Paul, who works as a delivery man, gets caught up in a heist gone wrong. As he watches the final moments of the stickup, he decides to take bags of money out of the hands of a dead young man at the crime scene. What follows is essentially an extension of that initial middling conversation, a slew of empty rhetorical questions: What will Pierre-Paul do with the money? Is it ethical? Will he get caught? Unfortunately, he is such an annoying and spineless character that it’s hard to even care what he does with the stolen cash. At some point, you almost root against him for being such a dolt in the face of his own life-changing decision to take the money.
Dotting Pierre-Paul’s droll arc are a number of much more interesting characters who are drained by his very presence. Maripier Morin plays Aspasie, an escort who inexplicably falls for Pierre-Paul after he solicits her services because — wait for it — she used the name of one of Socrates’ lady friends as her nom de plume. It’s almost as if she’s designed as a vessel for Pierre-Paul’s weepy philosophizing.
Swept off of his feet, Pierre-Paul mopes around her until, somehow, she falls for him (but definitely not his money), taking him under her wing as he navigates a possible move into wealth. Aspasie is a derivative, caricatured character, a woman given little to do except worship her male counterpart. Though she is savvy where Pierre-Paul is naive, her worldliness is completely sponged up in the void of banality that is Pierre-Paul.
Besides the embarrassing, trope-laden nature of the film’s characters, there are also a number of elements of the film that are completely undeveloped. As in any respectable heist movie, all of the loose ends essentially get tied up by the end of the narrative, but even these conclusions are fuzzily achieved. At one point, in a barefaced attempt to make Pierre-Paul more likable, the film redirects his obviously selfish decision to keep the money into a plot point of establishing a charity with a barefaced attempt to make him more likable. It does not work. There is another added plot layer involving a former white-collar criminal (Rémy Girard) who assists Pierre-Paul in funneling his money. But his role is also somewhat unclear, as is why he is helping Pierre-Paul in the first place.
“The Fall of the American Empire” implies some sort of grandiose attempt at commentary — about the state of greed in the world, the effects of corruption, what money means to mankind. But this film doesn’t communicate any of these things, nor does it serve as a satire or even a serviceable thriller. Rather, it is two hours of Pierre-Paul being annoying, shallow and naive, leading you to care less about what money means to him and rather begging him to take the money and run off-screen.
Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected].