Combustible Celluloid
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With: Donald Sutherland, Vincent Kartheiser, Oliver Dennis, Paul Braunstein, Al Sapienza, Lucia Walters, Joanne Boland, Genelle Williams
Written by: Wilson Coneybeare
Directed by: Wilson Coneybeare
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 99
Date: 01/04/2019

American Hangman (2019)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Jury of His Tears

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This modest, but pessimistic drama of societal ills may feel a little familiar, but the intelligent banter, a superior central performance, and one or two likable supporters, keep it crackling along.

In American Hangman, two men, Ron (Paul Braunstein) and Judge Straight (Donald Sutherland), emerge into the light, having been abducted. They are handcuffed and held in a basement, cameras pointed at them. Their abductor (Vincent Kartheiser), who keeps to the shadows, tells them that they have five minutes to figure out their connection. The judge gets the answer, but the abductor shows that he is prepared to commit brutal acts of violence.

Slowly, the plot is revealed. That morning, a man was put to death for the abduction and murder of a teen girl; the abductor insists that the wrong man died for the crime, and intends to put the judge on trial for this deadly error. The "trial" will be streaming online and viewers will be the "jury," having the capability to object or sustain, and render a verdict. However, if the judge can keep his wits, there may be a way out.

Written and directed by Wilson Coneybeare, American Hangman follows in the footsteps of so many recent movies that use social media and the Internet to demonstrate society's cynicism, selfishness, and apathy, and it can be a bit much. But at least the movie also builds a rhythm, doling out information and surprises slowly, so that it becomes somewhat pleasurable as well.

With the exception of various shocked and aghast minor characters watching the video, Coneybeare stays mainly in the moody basement, conjuring up unseen visuals through expressive dialogue. Sutherland's performance is impressive as he attempts to teach the law to the viewing masses in a way that will be both understandable and dynamic; he falters and stammers as he searches for the right way to say things.

Oliver Dennis is appealing as a smart, moralistic police lieutenant, about to retire, but slowly piecing together the case; he's interestingly cast, more like a wise turtle than a grizzled cop. The movie's daring final note is a bit of a minor chord, but on the whole, American Hangman gets a "not guilty" plea.

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