Review: Heist thriller 'The Fall of the American Empire' can't stand on its own

French-Canadian film bites off a little more than it can chew

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Alexandre Landry and Maripier Morin in "The Fall of the American Empire."

In terms of sexy titles which also happen to be grossly misleading, "The Fall of the American Empire" is a pretty juicy one. 

This Montreal-set, French-Canadian heist caper has little, if anything, to do with the fall of the American empire (although Trump is name-checked, briefly, in an early monologue). But it makes for a better title than, say, "International Finance Loopholes."

Veteran writer-director Denys Arcand, who made the unrelated 1986 drama "The Decline of the American Empire," centers his story on Pierre-Paul (Alexandre Landry), a delivery driver who happens upon a heist-in-progress and makes off with two large bags of cash.

With his nervous tics — he'd sweat it out for a day if a waitress looked at him cockeyed — he's the world's worst candidate for a master thief. But he fancies himself smarter than the average bear, and Arcand tips the scales in his direction at every turn. 

Pierre-Paul dips into his cash stash for a tryst with a high price call girl (Maripier Morin) and immediately falls for her. That's understandable. But when she begins to develop feelings for him too, the wheels start to fall off Arcand's fantasy.

There are bigger incongruities around the corner — the bumbling cops Pierre-Paul is always able to stay a step ahead of, for example, or the slippery, high-priced investment banker who routes the cash around the globe using two laptops, one of which he uses strictly as a map — that bury the film's credibility.

Arcand wants to use the heist as a backdrop to comment on big picture social injustices, such as the plight of the homeless in Montreal. But first it needs to hold water as a crime thriller, and that's where this "Empire" falls.

'The Fall of the American Empire'


Rated R: for some strong violence, sexual content/nudity and language

Running time: 127 minutes