March 20, 2023

Film Review – American Murderer (2022)


Until September of last year, conman Jason Derek Brown had been on the FBI’s top ten most wanted list for 15 years. He’s still a fugitive, still wanted, just not on the list any more, but now he’s joined numerous notorious criminals to have their story brought to the screen. Hollywood’s taste for true crime is just as strong as ever.

In writer/director Matthew Gentile’s feature debut, American Murderer, we’re given the inside story on how the charismatic con artist upscaled his life of financial crime to being accused of murder. Brown (Ozark’s Tom Pelphrey) started out small time, using his natural, easy going charm to separate various people from their money: when we first meet him, he’s preparing himself to con a helpless man in a pawn shop. But the loveable rogue has a darker side: his mother Jeanne (Jacki Weaver) refuses to loan him any more money, while his trusting girlfriend Melanie (Idina Menzel) eventually has her eyes opened to the same uncomfortable truth about him. Facing the prospect of his money running dry, Brown decides on another way to get cash, one that puts him on that FBI list.

Just a few steps behind him is FBI agent Lance Leising (Ryan Phillippe) and, through his investigations, we find out more about Brown and his nefarious activities. The criminal underworld are on his trail too, and get perilously close to putting a stop to his money making activities for good. What emerges isn’t just the silver tongued charmer, but also somebody with a callous disregard for those who care about him. His mother regards him with a cold, hard eye and, if his relationship with his girlfriend had been designed to show his softer side, that soon fades when he reverts to type. It does, however, give Pelphrey a deliciously complex character to work on and he turns in a terrific performance, with some knock-out showcase moments – watch how he turns the tears on and off at will and then laughs about it. He’s backed up by a sterling supporting cast, but comes out very much on top.

While Brown’s criminal career was undoubtedly eventful and the script highlights the insanity that can accompany the determination to get money the easy way, the narrative needs more insight into how he became a conman. The few childhood flashbacks skirt around that side of his story, leaving a disconnect between the young Brown and the manipulative, chaotic man we see in the film. But, thanks to Pelphrey in particular, the film is engaging enough to keep watching until the inevitable ending, even if it’s a little short on thrills. True crime fans will lap it up.



Crime, Thriller | Digital from 30 January 2023 | Dir. Matthew Gentile | Tom Pelphrey, Ryan Phillippe, Idina Menzel, Jacki Weaver, Paul Schneider.