Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Two brothers commit a violent crime; one brother goes to jail and is completely tormented by life beyond bars, while the other tries to make amends (and finds love). Once released, the first/older brother urges the other/younger brother to do “one last job” to make things right, with disastrous results. If that doesn’t sound predictable or trite, please continue. Otherwise… I’ll tell you that Adrien Brody and Hayden Christensen give it their all as brothers Frankie and James.
It’s complete unfortunate that Armenian director Sarik Andreasyan made his debut with American Heist. His moody vibe gave the film a richness that it lacked otherwise, but the script just wasn’t strong enough to sell me on the crime noir presented here.
Rounding out the small main cast are Akon as Sugar, the gang leader who Frankie is in debt to, and Jordana Brewster as Emily, the cop James fell for. Unfortunately, Brewster, Brody, and Christensen have all had better, deeper roles, and that raised the bar for this one. Still, Brody’s portrayal of a man who has been broken by time on the inside of prison is heartfelt and moving. For those who have never been incarcerated, it’s probably impossible to understand the pain of that experience. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you’re guilty or not; once you’re inside prison, it changes people.
One can only hope that people seeing movies like this recognize that crime doesn’t pay. Do the brothers ever get away? Do they ever get scared straight? Do we ever recognize the faults in someone else’s decisions and change our behavior? If anything, this is a moral tale of two brothers who repeat the same mistakes until they lead themselves down a path they can’t undo. Nathaniel Hawthorne might have been proud.