Oh what an intricate web is woven in Jenna Ricker’s “The American Side.”
An homage to everything from film noir to Alfred Hitchcock to Philip Marlowe and Mike Hammer, the film plays out at such a rapid pace, you will need to pay really really close attention to keep track of characters that appear and disappear (I’m still not sure who some of them are supposed to be) in the blink of an eye.
Going over Niagara Falls in a barrel isn’t the most dangerous thing Charlie Paczynski (co-writer Greg Stuhr) faces in THE AMERICAN SIDE. Pasczynski is a low-rent private eye working the seamier side of Buffalo, New York, where Niagra falls and both honeymooners and suicides flock. When one the cons he runs to pay the rent goes south, sending the bait, aka Kat the stripper (Kelsey Siepser), to the big sleep, he is suddenly thrust into a world of vintage cars, elegant mansions, international intrigue, squabbling siblings, and diagrams drawn by Nikola Tesla that might turn the world inside out if they fall into the wrong hands.
If you’re a fan of film noir, you’re going to enjoy this new film, “The American Side,” which replicates the beauty, style, and humor of the classic 40′s and 50′s genre. Blending some facts with some fiction, the story takes us into murder, mystery, and science as the lackluster gum shoe, Charlie Paczynski (Greg Stuhr), attempts to put together the missing pieces of a puzzle. Where the trail of bread crumbs lead him could change the future of the world.
I was impressed, if for no other reason, with the ambition behind this Buffalo-based indie crime thriller from writers Jenna Ricker (who also directed) and Greg Stuhr (who stars). THE AMERICAN SIDE is set with the backdrop of Niagara Falls where a curious suicide has taken place, one that is being investigated by private detective Charles Paczynski (Stuhr). Like many modern stories about gumshoes, this one is largely overwritten and unnecessarily complicated, but that’s par for the course because the plot isn’t really the point. The twist with THE AMERICAN SIDE is that it dives headfirst into the mysteries surrounding the designs of engineer and futurist Nikola Tesla and subsequent suppression of his ideas by all manner of clandestine organizations during his time on earth (he died in 1943).
I’ve missed the days of the legitimate film noir, starring the hard-boiled chain-smoking detective. These days the idea of film noire is just a blend of a modern thriller and crime drama, with very little elements of what a noir should be. Thankfully for “The American Side” (available on DVD) for bringing back a classic film noir story.
Writer & director Jenna Ricker and writer & actor Greg Stuhr compose a classic film noir mystery. Stuhr plays private eye Charlie Paczynski. A low-rent detective who prefers to be as mysterious as his cases. Paczynski is tasked with a suicide case, that ultimately leads to a discovery of much higher proportions. All told in a carefully crafted plot.
There is a point where film noir can be too stylized for its own good. Its traits of small-time crime, femme fatales, anti-heroes, and the underbelly style of all things that creep in the urban dark can be too fictitious and extreme. There’s room for film noir that can inhabit real places and plausible people while still having all the necessary ingredients to make them as cool as the genre demands.
Star and co-writer Greg Stuhr sat in on my interview with co-writer and director Jenna Ricker. You can almost hear him off mic adding a word or two, but he chose to remain a suitably enigmatic, though thoroughly affable, presence rather than a participant as Ricker and I discussed their intriguing film noir, THE AMERICAN SIDE.