Experienced N.Y. police detective John Harris is sent to London to help a local task force investigate a series of gangster killings organized by a new player in town - an American. Harris uses a teen wronged by gangsters to get to him.
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Carl is a truly psychotic drug / arms dealer who loves to gather up lost but innocent young men, tell them that they are special, and then turn them into cold blooded killers. Carl gets his thrills from corrupting the virtuous. There are many comments throughout the movie - both by the cops and the old time mobsters - about how these young, sweet kids are having their lives destroyed by drugs and the lure of cash. In one scene, an old mob guy is attacked by two of these 'kids' who are trying to kill him. When he turns the tables on them, he refuses to shoot them - he just tells them to leave him alone.
I admit that I have a bit of an issue with this constant referring to the adult men as "kids" - they appear to be in their early 20s, they are out drinking, working, having lives. It's always tragic when someone is led astray, but to call them helpless "boys" or "kids" is marginalizing their maturity, in my mind. Maybe if they'd made the boys in the movie in the 13-15 age range it would have played better with me.
In any case, the movie is a little cardboardy. You have the crooked cops. Keitel is the hard-FBI-guy-who-is-still-tender. The mob guy is rough but tender too. Viggo is over the top as the psycho who smashes a prostitute's face in at a party because she was snorting coke instead of doing her job. His main lines and action only let him show 'moralless insanity' without many shades of anything else. Keitel got a lot of good moments and depth in his role, being tough with the bad guys, really caring about the innocent, and wrapped up in knots by his home life. Another great role was provided to Craig Kelly - he was great as the young man (oops I mean helpless boy) who first tries to avoid getting sucked into the situation, but finally has to make some hard decisions.
On the violence end, there was a lot of it. There was also a lot of loud clubbing, meaning that either your ears are being blown out by the noise or you're missing the soft dialogue because it's muddled. I usually don't have any issues at all with sound balance on a DVD so I really did find it odd how the mix was done here. Maybe that was part of the intention - to make you feel like you didn't know what was going on and were immersed in this throbbing London scene.
A great movie to watch once - either rental or on TV - before you decide if you want to actually own it.
With the sound of raves in the background, the viewer is pulled right into the youth of Britain circa mid-90s. Dance parties, gangs, and late nights plague the screen as groups of genuine unknowns get killed in the night. This should have been an indication of what the remainder of the film would be like, but I trudged onward - and definitely not upward. After the brutal killings, we are swooped into the world of Harvey Keitel, or anti-antagonist (seemingly blending together every cop cliché/genre) John Harris. Brought in to help with a murder, we soon learn that there is a secondary motive in play - something that has to do with a very young, an extremely overacted, Viggo Mortensen. As we jump from one frame to another, one initial drawback are the dark, character building scenes ... literally, there is the concept of symbolic lighting to set the tone ... but director Danny Cannon used so much darkness some scenes are blank on the screen. Missing more than a fourth of the film, we are forced to follow an unknown path between Keitel, Mortensen, love-interest Thandie Newton, and relative newbie Craig Kelly. It is his story that transfers the power from Keitel, but is equally as unappetizing. After the death of a family member, Kelly's Christian decides to turn against the crew that did it, becoming a powerful tool for Keitel, but the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and whys are never answered - still giving us nothing but quick scenes, literally teleporting us from point A to point B, without reason or consequence.
As mentioned, the story is the ultimate failure of the film. There were actions made by our characters that did not seem to fit within the realm that Danny Cannon had created, but he continued to push through. Nothing was answered, situations were randomly created, and why was Viggo Mortensen's character so underdeveloped, yet so vital to the story? Who knows. That question became the downtrodden central theme to this film, and a reason why "The Young Americans" will never see success. With our story a clustered mess, how did the rest fair beneath the control of Cannon? Not surprisingly, the British were believable and grounded. The minor characters, perhaps outside of Craig Kelly, felt like real police and the setting (due to extensive British TV watching) felt like Britain 1993, but the influx of the American presence just ruined the rest. Keitel could have been Steven Seagul or JCVD, he was not cunning, nothing brilliant, just an American cop-dislocated and fighting against the shadow of a drug dealer. The entire subplot with his ex-wife was nothing short of embarrassing. Used to build his character, it just felt more like a cheap trick instead of honest emotion. The same can be said with Viggo Mortensen, who with choppy editing by Danny Cannon, never quite developed past the notion of "creepy guy". With a voice that sounded like a Lynch character, an unknown occupation, and a purpose to be in Britain (let's not forget his peculiarity towards young men), Mortensen felt more like a placemat than a villain. On the other side of this film, Newton read her lines well, and Craig Kelly attempted to work around Cannon and David Hilton's catastrophe of a script. It was obvious the actors were found, the script was heavily edited, and the final product was a rushed pile of poorly constructed LEGOs. One flick of your finger, it will all go crumbling down.
VIDEO: This is not a masterful piece of cinema. Don't expect it going in, I didn't - but it still turned out to be a jumbled mess. Nothing worked in this film, providing you with nearly two hours of inconsistent babble not worthy of the DVD it is printed on.
VISUALS: Hello darkness, my good friend. Be prepared for very dark scenes in which nothing is seen. It is an already darkened film with the themes and story, but to have ill-lighting just adds to the overall cheap nature of this film.
SOUND: Not bad, some decent music and a good score. The characters do not mumble, the English accents were understandable. This was a department where Danny Cannon didn't seem to miscalculate the finances.
EXTRAS: Nothing. This DVD is bare bones. With the option of jumping to a scene, it is as if this DVD was made to be a cheap option for those looking for more gritty Harvey Keitel.
Overall, in case it hasn't been noticed, this was an abomination of a film. From the darkly lit scenes (you have to watch to believe how dark this film was), to the atrocious acting, to the story that went nowhere but somehow ended up at the final credits, "The Young Americans" was a direct to video release for a reason. Shot in 38 days, this film felt rushed and incomplete. Mortensen's character is the one I struggle with the most, as the ending leads us to believe that this was supposed to be a different film than the one we began or watched. There were too many wild-cards (see Jack Doyle) that muddled the main story. It is a murky mess that is easily forgotten and should be avoided. Danny Cannon may have given us "CSI" and "Judge Dredd", but this is an incompetent film that will appeal to nobody and fails miserably.
Grade: * out of *****
appears to have been written by a 14 year old, considering the
social circle of the protagonists, the title of the movie itself,
and the simplicity of the story. Unfortunately, those facts didn't
turn out to be trumps for the picture.
The strong point, is Harvey Keitel, who brings natural charisma and
realism to the filming, playing a police detective on loan to
Interpol (international enforcement) tracking down a weapons
trafficker, played amusingly by the sometimes enigmatic star Viggo
The lesson of this movie, is difficult to surmise, considering the
confused, fatuous plot. Perhaps it is to bring patience to the
segment of the population who is over 21, with regards to those
younger than that age bracket, with a secondary goal bring to have
the juvenile element reflect on the serious consequences of taking
the message contained in music, pop culture, and TV at face value,
and agreeing to be corrupted by criminal elements in society.
The 3 major annoyances of this work, was first, the soundtrack. The
audio level needlessly and relentlessly ranged from deafeningly loud
(in the sequences filmed in the night club, and for the football
match), to the inaudibel whispered lines uttered by the actors.
Clearly, no effort was done to bring a consistent sound level
throughout the movie.
The next weakness, is the fact that the plot perhaps is so thin,
empty, and the morality of the movie so hollow, that many sequences
go on and on, for many minutes. Often, it appears the cameras are
rolling to fill up movie frames, with the audience watching the time
pass by, in expectation of actiont that often is never there.
Lastly, the soundtrack wasn't ideal. The choice of the songs, the
musical accompaniment showed effort and thought, but consistently
missed the mark, and seemed inappropriate or distracting to the
underlying action and story.
Its strength, mostly stemming from Mortensen's and Keitel's dual
efforts in carrying this picture to fruition. There's also a
quasi-Matt Damon twin who fills his role quite well.
With no suspense whatsoever, no thrill aspect maintained over 90
minutes, due to a lack of script, the end result is a movie worth
Other positive aspects, in addition to the leading actors, are the
filming locations in England, seen in the daytime, which are
interesting in themselves. Clearly, not enough thought, effort was
brought into boosting those weaker elements that otherwise, could
have helped this movie succeed in the non-European markets.