The Fall of the American Empire

Money has its own power. What will you do when it talks to you?

A Review

Listen Here @ 1:02:32

The Fall of the American Empire. Don’t the let the title fool you. The film is set not in America but in Montreal, Canada. Based on a true crime that happened in Old Montreal in 2010, film director Denys Arcand explores issues of class and race framed by two duffel bags filled with $12 million dollars. The Fall of the American Empire opens with a couple assessing their relationship in a diner. The mood is somber. Linda cannot understand why her boyfriend Pierre-Paul works as a deliveryman, especially since he earned an advanced degree in philosophy. “If you’re so smart,” she begins, “why aren’t you president of a bank?” He answers, “I’m too intelligent.” From there, he commences to critique some of the great writers philosophers whom he deems were “dumb as mules” even though they hold the distinction of “genius” in the academy. “Hemingway, the novelist, thought he could box … Louis Althusser strangled his wife!” he uses as examples to convince her. In certain scenes, though, Pierre-Jean flexes his philosophical knowledge. Given the circumstances, he quotes Artistotle, Kant, Socrates, and Ludwig Wittenstein.

Denys directs a charming ensemble of characters who make unlikely turns in their life once the duffel bags of money are dropped into the picture. Now how did THAT happen? A botched robbery. Two young black men contracted by the mafia to rob a retail shop called The Hollywood. It just so happens that Pierre-Jean arrives at The Hollywood to make a delivery while the robbery is taking place. The robbery is foiled by the store’s security guard. Dead bodies are sprawled everywhere, and as luck would have it, one of the perpetrators drops the bag of money at the feet of Pierre-Jean in his escape. The other perpetrator stumbles outside of the store with his bag and falls face down in the parking lot. Interesting. Pierre-Jean does not call for an ambulance nor the police; rather he scans for witnesses. The area is quiet—real quiet. Pierre-Jean’s next move sets in motion a charming cat-and-mouse adventure between Pierre-Jean, his team, and the police.

By happenstance, Pierre-Jean assembles a company of a high class prostitute, an ex-money launderer, and a corporate executive to aid him in laundering the money. Pierre-Jean and Company elude the police and the crime syndicate. It’s a tense but delightful game as they get to move in and out of Montreal society with just a modicum of detection.

But Denys Arcand makes a subtle statement: the cat-and-mouse cunning of Pierre-Jean and comrades happens only for them, the white members. Remember the Black perpetrator who survives? His name is Jacmel Rosabert. He pays for the crime in a most grueling way. The torture scene is gratuitous – really, all too much to bear, especially when Jacmel is thereafter tossed out like a Hefty gallon plastic bag on a trash heap by the mob. To add insult to my viewing injury, Vladimir Francois, the Black businessman who masterminded the robbery—and of in his own store nonetheless, comes to a gruesome fate leaving his wife and two children in what surely will upend their lives. After all is said and done, Arcand decides to pay homage to those citizens who awaken every day out of their sleeping bags, from their folded packs of clothes; those who have spent the night in a store’s entrance or under a bridge; those who are the homeless. Strange. I had to ask myself, why am I feeling this is too little too late?

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