With a score by David Shire (The Conversation, All the President’s Men) evoking the best conspiracy films of the 70s, a couple of riffs on Hitchcockian set-pieces, and some occasional bits of hardboiled banter, The American Side provides the cinephile with plenty of opportunities to spot a respectful tip-of-the-hat. In fact, nearly every scene boasts at least one cinematic ‘Easter egg’, an affectionate nod to influential classic noir, mystery, or suspense films.
Kiss Me Deadly, the classic independent noir from Robert Aldrich by way of Mickey Spillane may be referenced most often, with its similarly dogged quest for a ‘great whatsit’ (a potentially devastating threat to the world), and a character named ‘Soberin’ as a critical person-of-interest. When Nikki Meeker (Ralph Meeker portrayed Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly) appears to Paczynski out of the darkness in The American Side, she, like Cloris Leachman’s character in the Aldrich film, is a terrified young woman in a raincoat. And Paczynski’s own shifting moral code and mostly charmless approach are closer to Hammer than Marlowe, making him more likely to shoot a femme fatale in the back than seduce her.
If a third act chase through dank and shadowed tunnels reminds one of The Third Man, or a quick bit of backstory delivered at a machine-gun pace from inside a car as it races through city streets calls to mind a breathless moment in Marathon Man, it’s purely intentional. Tributes to North By Northwest and Chinatown are fairly obvious, while gestures to The Big Combo and The Long Goodbye are less so. Visual compositions (forbidding staircases; long, character-dwarfing shots), casting choices (Robert Forster of the pulpy Jackie Brown; Robert Vaughn of the polished crime thriller Bullitt), the twisting, almost impenetrable plot, duplicitous and sometimes ambiguous characters, and the eclectic and unsentimental performances all link The American Side to the films that inspired it.
Greg Stuhr, Co-writer