Emmy nominee Tom Pelphrey (Ozark) leads the cast of writer/director Matthew Gentile's true-crime thriller American Murderer chronicling the captivating story of Jason Derek Brown, a charismatic con man who became one of the FBI's most surprising additions to their Top Ten Most Wanted List and who remains elusive to this day.
Having had its world premiere at Sicily's Taormina Film Festival, American Murderer has been picked up by Lionsgate/Saban for a domestic release and Universal for international markets. The mid-range thriller with a cast of familiars tells a fascinating story even if the film itself never quite manages to fascinate.
An L.A. born Latter-Day Saint who served a two-year mission in Paris, France, Brown ran two businesses, Toys Unlimited and On the Doorstep Advertising, and had a penchant for luxurious living that would, at least allegedly, prove to be his downfall. Mired in considerable debt, Brown allegedly shot and killed an armored car guard outside an AMC movie theatre. Subsequently placed on the FBI's Most Wanted list in 2007, Brown has continued to elude capture with suspicion being that he may very well be hiding in plain sight or in an LDS community under an assumed name. Others believe that he's likely relocated.
Regardless, Jason Derek Brown has never been caught.
The story of Jason Derek Brown is, indeed, a captivating story that never fully comes to life here. American Murderer is a largely colorless affair, a film that feels like it would be perfectly at home on Discover: Investigate with its predictable storytelling and often procedural narrative. With a supporting cast that includes Ryan Phillippe, Idina Menzel, Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver, Moises Arias and others, American Murderer has all the right ingredients but can't seem to cook up much in the way of excitement.
While it's obvious that Brown's family upbringing contributed to the man he would become, Gentile's script only gives us a surface glimpse into those dynamics. Despite top-notch casting, Jason's mother (Jacki Weaver), fatgher (Kevin Corrigan), and sister (Shantal VanSanten) aren't much more than stick figures here and I got a clearer picture of their impact on Jason after two minutes on Wikipedia than in nearly two hours watching the film.
Idina Menzel is similarly astray as Melanie, a realtor whose relationship with Brown is at first business and then, well, not business.
Ryan Phillippe does what he can as FBI agent Lance Leising, who would spend years searching for Brown without success. However, American Murderer lacks the sense of urgency that would really immerse us in the search and make us feel Leising's growing sense of desperation.
While American Murderer is for the most part a thriller without thrills, Pelphrey still manages to shine as the arrogant, narcissistic con man who flaunts and taunts and backs it all up. Pelphrey's solid performance isn't quite enough to bring American Murderer to life, however, and this surprisingly bland thriller will likely have the real-life Brown (and you know he'll watch it!) mumbling to himself "15 years eluding the FBI and this is all I get?"
Indeed. I found myself asking the very same question.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic