Published Sep 12, 2018Quebec filmmaker Denys Arcand's latest, The Fall of the American Empire, is a watchable but unprofound money heist ruminating on capitalism and related social ills.
When Pierre-Paul Dubbe (Alexandre Landry) a delivery man with a philosophy PhD, stumbles upon millions of dollars from a botched robbery, he must decide what to do with the newfound wealth. He teams up with a classy, upscale sex worker (Maripier Morin), with whom he quickly becomes involved, and ponytailed biker Sylvain (Rémy Girard), who recently finished a stint in jail. They work to keep possession of the money and dodge a pair of detectives determined to bring them down.
If Arcand is using his characters as mouthpieces through which to espouse his beliefs, he does so with a certain tongue-in-cheek humour. In the opening scene, Pierre-Paul explains to his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend about how most accomplished people (politicians, businessmen, etc.) are actually imbeciles. He goes on and on, taking himself very seriously, about how he is too smart for the world. This is coupled with a confusing earnestness, as Pierre-Paul, putting action to the ideologies he espouses, also volunteers at a soup kitchen and gives to the homeless.
The movie calls attention to the wealthy's easy access to offshore tax havens, and explores inequality and the redistribution of wealth. While it's important subject matter, and entertaining enough to watch, it does not unfold in particularly surprising ways.
Rather, Fall of the American Empire feels stuck in the world of ideas. Maripier Morin's role in particular, though well acted, leans more towards being a symbol of sex work than an actual, vivid woman. Perhaps this is also why the ending, a desperately earnest collection of portraits of homeless and Indigenous peoples, feels more exploitative than impactful. In the context of a film where characters are wrapped up as symbols and ideologies, the faces presented as Arcand's grand moral conclusion seem doomed to semiotic meaning rather than personhood.