An independent film by director Nick Love, American Hero tries a new angle at the superhero film by presenting us with a story of an irresponsible man learning to accept the responsibilities of his actions.
The film follows Melvin Hesper (Stephen Dorff), a hard party-goer, drinker and deadbeat parent. Melvin also possesses the ability to move objects with his mind, which he squanders day to day with his lifestyle and laziness. When his ways start to catch up to him, Melvin resolves to improve himself to be a better person and put his abilities to real use.
The story chronicles Melvin’s attempt to change from his self-indulgent, trainwreck of a life. His greatest struggle is not only learning to control his power, but also himself. Despite his intentions, Melvin lacks the maturity and consideration to think about the consequences of what he does. He’s reckless, flippant, doesn’t always listen to the advice his friends or family give and only wises up when someone gets hurt. Melvin is a conflicted character and it’s clear that he earnestly wants a new path; just having incredible powers doesn’t make him a hero.
It’s all very admirable, but the film stumbles in the execution of the story. Melvin’s character suffers from very slow development, taking over half an hour to get to the good stuff and even then any type of lesson learning is a while away. The film has issues with its storytelling; it has a clear goal in mind for its protagonist, but it’s unclear on whether Melvin is developing at all as the film progresses. It goes for a subdued tone by not focusing on what Melvin can do with his powers and instead zeroes in on the human element. The crux of his development is how he interacts with the people around him, be it him trying to move on from his lifestyle or being chewed out for his recklessness.
Melvin’s apparent attempt at getting his life in order simply rings untrue, with character resolution and growth coming in rushed in the latter stages. The screenplay doesn’t juggle our protagonist’s back-and-forth behaviour, thus paving the way for a very uneven experience, and tying up loose ends quickly towards the finale simply feels forced.
It’s an ambitious but ultimately halfhearted plot and character study that feels incomplete. It’s also quite excessive in some of its content, be it in the language or on Melvin’s benders. We get that Melvin is in a bad neighbourhood, but the film goes above and beyond to accentuate this.
A lot of the filmmaking elements can be put down to being adequate. Simon Dennis’ cinematography is decent. Shot in a mockumentary style, the camera is shaky and yet does well to both clearly track Melvin’s path of movement and catch all the action “off-screen”. That being said, don’t expect anything groundbreaking or awe-inspiring in that department. The soundtrack lays down appropriate tracks to enhance the mood, be it a quiet, sombre scene of reflection or a more stressful moment. The film also makes good use of silence and lack of background music to convey gravity and emotion. There’s not much more to say; the shaky mockumentary style camera works well and the music does what it does.
The special effects are also minimalist, nothing more than having objects suspended in the air and the occasional vehicle being torn apart. It’s hard to differentiate if an object is real or not, but the CG does slip up during more spectacular moments. Other than that, again, nothing special.
The performances are fine, but not outstanding. Stephen Dorff’s performance as Melvin is colourful, expressing emotions subtly and wildly, focusing on movements that evoke melancholy. The supporting players are just as colourful, even if they don’t share as much time as Melvin. It’s a decent cast, but the film’s structure doesn’t do them enough justice.
American Hero had the potential to be a great story about a man with incredible powers learning responsibility, but ended up falling short of the goal. The sloppy story structure and back-and-forth character development makes Melvin’s story difficult to connect with. Besides the serviceable presentation and some decent performances, American Hero is overall unremarkable and lacks any real impact.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10