Directed by Jenna Ricker, written by Greg Stuhr and Jenna Ricker. Cinematography by Frank Barrera, and Music by David Shire.
The film stars Greg Stuhr as Private Detective Charlie Paczynski, Camilla Belle as Emily Chase, Alicja Bachleda-Curuś as Nikki Meeker, Matthew Broderick (Glory (1989), Manchester By The Sea (2016) as Borden Chase, Janeane Garofalo (Dogma (1999), as Agent Barry, Robert Forster (Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), Jackie Brown (1997), Mulholland Drive (2001), Breaking Bad TV Series (2008–2013), Too Late (2015), Twin Peaks TV Series (2017– )) as Sterling Whitmore, Grant Shaud (Wall Street (1987)) as The Professor, Robert Vaughn (cameo) (Mike Hammer TV Series (1958–1959), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV Series (1964–1968), Bullitt (1968)), Harris Yulin ('Doc' (1971), Night Moves (1975), Scarface (1983), Narrow Margin (1990)) and Joe Grifasi (The Deer Hunter (1978), Matewan (1987), Ironweed (1987), Ironweed (1987), Auto Focus (2002), ) as The Serb, Norm Sham as Maguire the Detective, and Kelsey Siepser as Kat the stripper/confidence gal.
Buffalo, what was at one time our Frontier, analogous to The Stick's or The Wild West. It's the capital of the "other" New York. Upstate. "The Queen City" it spawned "daredevils," and pioneered steam powered grain elevators, and what could be a more iconic symbol of The Great American Fly-Over Country. You could probably say Buffalo is the prototype typical Mid Western/Great Lake, U.S. city.
Greg Stuhr and Jenna Rickers script works into The American Side, in a similar fashion to Robert Towne's Chinatown L.A. water wars some Queen City historical atmosphere. In this scenario the early 1900s hydropower, the electrical invention history of genius Nikola Tesla, Buffalo and Niagara Falls is woven into a tale that bridges to the 21st century. This happens in the form of the missing pages of Tesla's notebook which may contain valuable inventions, or of those left unfinished, or just hinted at i.e. free energy systems, invisibility, death rays, etc.
Who is Nikola Tesla?, a genius pioneer of electrical technology and a world-class eccentric. Who, as D.A.R.P.A. Agent Barry in the film, puts it "you could say invented the 20th Century.... When people were getting around on horseback Tesla envisioned a device so small that it could fit into your pocket it would let you check the news, or the stock market or talk to anyone anywhere in the world" sound familiar? He was a dreamer of ideas though, rather than a builder. A nice opening montage traces part of this timeline.
The writers, using the locals around the Buffalo–Niagara Falls metropolitan area including the Canadian Side of 2.25 million, create another sort of Sin City universe, a Northern version of say El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, only instead of Mexicans and more Southern neighbors we have a completely different mix nationalities clustered along the Northern border.
"The most intriguing of Tesla’s inventions are the ones that got away. Visitors to the Tesla Museum in Colorado Springs are told a story reminiscent of UFO conspiracy tales: In a raid on his house immediately after his death, government agents seized all of Tesla’s apparatus — some 85 trunks full — either because timid bureaucrats felt the world wasn’t ready for the wonders of Tesla technology or for more sinister reasons. Exactly what all this top-secret Tesla technology may be isn’t known, but some of it, so goes the story, may make time travel possible." (Skeptical Inquirer 1994)
The script also nicely incorporates some ironic hardboiled humor into the dialog.
|Charlie Paczynski (Stuhr)|
The only P.I. in the phonebook, a retro, scruffy, looking Charlie Paczynski, is playing pinball in a dive bar. He's Polish. A perpetual cigarette dangling. He drives a '69 "monkey shit brown" Dart Swinger. He's waiting for his mark.
Like the Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly, Charlie is a "bedroom dick", a "window peeper." Like Mike and Velda, Charlie and a stripper named Kat are hooking and scamming marks, Kat tipping Charlie so that be there to take photographs of compromising positions. Charlie contacts the husband, and claims he's working for the wife, tells the mark that the wife hasn't seen them, but that she paid $1000 for them. The mark in this case a Professor can buy the photos and himself off the hook. Nice racket.
Apparently college professors and top electrical engineering technologists, on the Eastern Rim of the Midwest, go to Buffalo/Niagara Falls for their quota of boobage.
|Charlie and Kat (Siepser)|
|The Professor (Shaud)|
|Professor "you're not keeping the negatives are you?"|
|Charlie "what kind of guy do you think I am?"|
The film has got an excellently convoluted plot that homages a bit of Kiss Me Deadly (1955), and visually revisits Niagara (1953). Two running gags poke fun at Paczynski's penchant for constantly sucking a tar bar, and the fact that private detectives still exist.
Maguire (a police detective): Get the hell out of here.
Charlie: You got the road jammed up.
Maguire: You're a long way from Polonia.
Charlie: Working a missing persons case.
Maguire: You couldn't find a hole in a donut.
Charlie (pointing to Maguire's cigarettes): Can I get one of those?
Maguire (handing Charlie his pack): No.
Charlie: Male or female?
Maguire: The jumper is male.
Charlie: Got a light?
Maguire: This is the season, the place is a magnet, honeymoons and suicides.
Charlie: What's the difference?
Maguire: Ha! You should take that routine to Vegas. I'll escort you to the airport.
Charlie: I told you, I've got a job and I've already found the guy. Some nut out of Pittsburg name of Soberin.
Maguire: Which one of these maroons put you up to it?
Charlie: I don't get it?
Maguire: Soberin, (a stretcher goes by with a covered body) you can help tuck him in.
|'69 Dodge Dart Swinger|
|Borden Chase (Matthew Broderick)|
|Charlie & Sterling Whitmore (Robert Forster)|
|Maguire the Detective (Norm Sham) with Charlie|
Maguire:What would you do if I was in your shoes Charlie?
Charlie: I'd burn my socks.
|The Silver Haired Man (Robert Vaughn)|
|Nikki Meeker (Alicja Bachleda-Curuś )|
|Emily Chase (Camilla Belle)|
|Tom Soberin (Harris Yulin)|
Silver-Haired Man: Everyone looks the same in a suit, like a rat.
After giving Charlie tons of info. Charlie asks him something specific,
Silver-Haired Man: How should I know, I don't go nosing around in other people's business.
|Agent Barry (Janeane Garofalo)|
|Stickney (Stephen Henderson)|
|The Serb (Joe Grifasi)|
|an armed drone attack|
More P.I. Charlie Paczynski quotes:
Charlie: I don't mind getting paid for somebody I'm already looking for.
Emily: I'm not paying you to look for him, I'm paying you to find him.
Charlie: What do we do?
Security Guard: Well if we're lucky we schedule an appointment.
Charlie: Appointments are for assholes... you probably make them all the time.
Charlie: That's a gene pool screaming for chlorine.
The American Side is a good example of what can be accomplished in an fly over country production. It's nice to see the the middle of the country again in a Noir with some cinematic memory. Greg Stuhr carries most of the load, he impressed, with the rest of the cast putting in good but pretty much extended cameos of various lengths, one standout was Norm Sham who stole a couple of scenes.
For Noir & Detective enthusiasts it's a winner. Screencaps are from the Sony Pictures 2016 DVD. Almost a low rent Chinatown. 7/10