Olivier Megaton’s The Last Days of American Crime is an ugly film. It is ugly in form, it is ugly in story, and it is ugly in spirit. The basic premise, that the government has found a way to crack down on crime by developing a signal that interrupts the brain in the process of a crime, is background noise to a dreary, hollow caper led by ugly, dour characters.
Based on a graphic novel, this premise is reminiscent of a Minority Report or an A Clockwork Orange, and in theory it is an intriguing concept. At least, the execution of the concept is intriguing in those other films. In this case, the tough on crime mentality that leads to the signal, as well as the iconography of violent police-civilian interactions, is an abysmally shallow reflection of authoritarianism and abusive power, and it could not be coming to a wide Netflix subscription base at a worse time.
But the sociopolitical side of this film is too shaky and undeveloped to take seriously. It may be bad optics for Netflix to go forward with a release of the film at the given moment in America. Taking the film on its own terms, however, it is merely incompetent.
The hero of the film, Graham Bricke (Edgar Ramirez) is introduced to us in medias res as he brutally tortures a man with gasoline and a lit cigar. We then watch him botch a robbery, murder his partners in cold blood, and then sit down to a nice glass of whiskey as he mopes and looks glum. He is like Daniel Craig’s James Bond, only without the suave charm or the motivation for his icy emotional distance. Ramirez plays him as laconic and monotone, rendering this hero as one of the most uninteresting in cinema history.
Graham then meets Shelby (Anna Brewster), a femme fatale written by a man who appears to not understand that femme fatales can have agency. Indeed, by the end of the film she turns from this femme fatale into nothing more than a damsel in distress. Her introduction is a raunchy sex scene in a bar bathroom, set to a grotesque cover of “I Want to Be a Dog,” and in a sense this sex scene is a good representation of the film as a whole. It is visually, sonically, and narratively hideous. It is an impromptu exercise in hollow titillation, a provocation with no rhyme or reason. It is cinematically ugly. Philosophically undeveloped. Sensually inert. Charmless. Overlong.
Shelby is the girlfriend of Kevin Cash (Michael Pitt), a greasy, scenery-chewing wildcard who presents Bricke with a job, a final heist before the crime-nullifying signal goes into effect. This setup of characters and preparation for the heist lasts what feels like 12 hours (it is, in actuality, just over an hour).
Unlike a film like Killing Them Softly, which uses morally ugly characters as part of a (comparatively) nuanced political message, The Last Days of American Crime is almost banal in its moral emptiness. At one point, Cash visits his father and sister, and the conversations devolves into a childish fit of mocking shouts. That is about the level of intelligence this film’s subtext rises to.
This is a sloth of a movie, trudging through an insane 150-minute runtime with no sense of pacing or narrative intent. It feels unwatchable as you’re watching it, and it feels as though you hadn’t watched anything at all once you’ve finished. Nothing in the film justifies this runtime. In fact, none of it is justified at all. Every line delivered reads like it is out of a hacky ’80s ripoff of a Schwarzenegger vehicle (or a parody thereof). I would not force a minute of this film on my worst enemy.
Maybe if this film had caught me on a good day I would concede that this is not the worst action film I’ve ever seen, that it is merely hyper cliched and devoid of substance. A worst film could have been made from this material (this film is, at least, in focus throughout). But today is not that day, and this film is not worthy of any favors.
The Last Days of American Crime: F
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)