Revered Quebecois director Denys Arcand’s newest film The Fall of the American Empire, which screened at TIFF 2018, is an adequate thrilling romp that provide great comedic quips at the expense of the film’s protagonist, a socialist with a philosophy P.H.D. who is at odds with a dilemma in the face of luck and capitalism.
As we meet our main character Pierre-Paul (Alexandre Landry), lamenting to his girlfriend in a restaurant about how only stupid people who seems to fail upwards in life can be happy, and how he, an intellectual, is too smart for this world, we can tell right away that this man of culture, who has spent time learning great truths about life, is out of touch with reality himself. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy in any way. He volunteers at homeless shelters, he gives change to any beggar on the street, and due to the fact that service jobs pay more than teaching positions, he works within the capitalist system as a package delivery man.
While on a delivery run, Pierre-Paul comes across a botched robbery, leaving behind a few dead people, an injured fugitive on the run, and two duffle bags full of cash. Seizing the opportunity, and evading police questioning, he grabs both duffle bags and absconds with the cash, keeping some for himself to spend on a high-end escort named Aspasie (Maripier Morin), a reference to a figure in Greek Philosophy, and enlisting the help of a recently released career criminal, Bigras (Remy Girard), to assist with keeping the cash away from the gangs and cops that are on Pierre-Paul’s trail.
As the film drags to get to its thrilling third act heist of our protagonists using capitalism to legally commit a laundering scheme under the guise of a “charity,” Pierre-Paul has already compromised his socialist ideals, as Arcand shows how stupid and naïve he has been throughout his journey) in regards to how the world truly functions in a capitalist system that is motivated by money. It’s this kind of simplistic social and political commentary that Arcand could have been more poignant about, especially with the film’s coda that blatantly comments on the state of poverty and homelessness in Montreal that always seems to linger in the background of the film, but never in the foreground until its staring you literally in the face. But hey, it’s all in good fun if the money is put into the hands of the good guys…right? The film is entertaining enough to keep your interest, but don’t expect to fall in love with its characters.