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'The Fall Of The American Empire' Is An Intimate Crime Comedy With An Intellectual Twist

May 31, 2019
Originally published on May 31, 2019 5:55 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The title of the new film "The Fall Of The American Empire" makes it sound very grand. Critic Bob Mondello says it's actually an intimate crime comedy with an intellectual twist.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Pierre-Paul is 30-something, a good Samaritan and both the dweebiest and the best-educated delivery truck driver in Montreal. His Ph.D. in philosophy has left him convinced that everyone from Dostoyevsky to Sartre was dumb. And don't even get him started on politicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE")

ALEXANDRE LANDRY: (As Pierre-Paul Daoust) George Bush, Silvio Berlusconi, Nicolas Sarkozy, Tony Blair - (speaking French).

MONDELLO: "Total losers," he says. Pierre-Paul also has an utter disdain for money, so naturally he comes into a lot of money.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

MONDELLO: He's unloading packages from the back of his delivery truck when a robbery goes wrong - two duffel bags full of cash on the parking lot, two dead shooters, no witnesses. Pierre-Paul hesitates a moment, then remembers Aristotle's dictum that happiness is directly linked to luck and shoves the duffel bags into his delivery truck.

It's a gang hit - millions of dollars. So what's a good Samaritan anti-capitalist to do - some pretty dumb things, as it happens. He spends thousands of dollars on Montreal's most expensive call girl, for instance, because she's named Aspasie after a friend of Socrates. She really is lovely and smart enough to tell him when he starts sounding like a lovesick schoolboy that he doesn't really know her. "I'm terribly superficial," she says.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE")

MARIPIER MORIN: (As Aspasie, speaking French).

MONDELLO: "I have a Ph.D. in philosophy," he replies. "I can provide the depth."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE")

LANDRY: (As Pierre-Paul Daoust, speaking French).

MORIN: (As Aspasie, laughter).

MONDELLO: With both the gang and the cops closing in, Pierre-Paul needs to hide the money, so he also hires an ex-con who studied economics in prison and whose first piece of advice is to not spend the cash, not do anything that might tip off the cops.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE")

REMY GIRARD: (As Sylvain Bigras, speaking French).

MONDELLO: Aspasie, of course...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE")

LANDRY: (As Pierre-Paul Daoust, speaking French).

MONDELLO: ...Makes that impossible.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE")

GIRARD: (As Sylvain Bigras) Oh, boy...

MONDELLO: The ex-con also says they need a high finance guy to help launder the money. Aspasie suggests an ex-boyfriend.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Mr. Christian (ph), I want you to open a new numbered account in which some of my clients could make a deposit.

MONDELLO: All this so that Pierre-Paul, idealist that he is, can give away to folks in need the money he stole from folks who'd already stolen it. "Fall Of The American Empire" is film noir as hilariously barbed social critique, a return to form for filmmaker Denys Arcand, who made his reputation with two Oscar-nominated movies that sound like prequels to this one - "The Decline Of The American Empire" and "Barbarian Invasions." Those titles are equally mischievous. Both films are gab fests in which college professors talk and talk about sex and politics. Pierre-Paul could almost be one of their ex-grad students except he's so action-oriented.

"The Fall Of The American Empire" is filled with chases, twists, double-crosses, dialogue peppered with quotes from great philosophers and would-be Robin Hoods doing all the wrong things for all the very best reasons. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.