On paper, The Fall of the American Empire has all the makings of a gritty crime flick: a robbery gone bad, ruthless gangsters, and an opportunistic delivery man in over his head. But look past the scheming biker accountants, sexy call girls, and violent crooks and you’ll see that writer/director Denys Arcand’s film has much larger ambitions.
Delivery man Pierre-Paul (Alexandre Landry) believes ignorance is bliss. It’s better to be dumb and happy than smart (like him) and confront the world’s ills. People are greedy, self-serving, and willing to step over anyone to make a buck. While on a delivery he encounters an armed robbery. The crooks gun each other down but leave millions of dollars behind in the bloody aftermath. Pierre-Paul grabs the cash before the police arrive, but he doesn’t know what to do with it. With the help of a biker/tax-expert and a high-class prostitute, he makes plans to launder the money. But he’s an amateur criminal and leaves a string of clues in his wake. And soon, the cops and the crooks are hot on his trail.
Arcand’s film isn’t finger-wagging at viewers or uncovering anything we didn’t already know. Instead, he asks us to step back and observe the absurdity of a culture that steps over the homeless, shames sex workers, and locks up drug addicts but allows white-collar criminals to thrive. The Fall of the American Empire is a clever social satire featuring fun characters, topical themes, and intense bursts of violence.