Review: AMERICAN MURDERER, But He Looks So Friendly

Tom Pelphrey, Ryan Philippe, Idina Menzel and Jacki Weaver star in a film by Matthew Gentile, heading for international release January 30.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
Review: AMERICAN MURDERER, But He Looks So Friendly

Do you ever really know the secret person of the heart?

From outward appearances, Jason Derek Brown (Tom Pelphrey) is the living embodiment of a certain ageless American dream. Good-looking and well-muscled, he easily attracts attention from lonely women, timid men, and innocent children, who are blinded by his charming appearance and persuaded by his ease at striking up conversations and making friends.

His appeal is only skin-deep, though, as the opening sequence in American Murderer skillfully demonstrates. In truth, he is a liar at heart; a born actor, the more charitable might say. His charms soon turn boorish; his deceptive self-confidence becomes wearisome.

Jason Derek Brown is self-aware to the extent that he knows he must remain a moving target, to elude trouble and dance around the consequences of his own behavior. The wreckage that he creates is left behind for others to clean up. He breaks some hearts and some laws on his highway to hell, yet the cumulative damage, staggering as it is, remains primarily emotional and financial, the sort of behavior by a miscreant that slowly erodes trust, love, and kindness.

Inspired by a true story, writer/director Matthew Gentile introduces Jason Derek Brown as a charming liar whose actions become increasingly more desperate as he creates more trouble for himself and anyone who cares for him in the present or anyone who cared about him in the past. Tom Pelphrey easily captures his character's elusively genial, charming side, which hints at his dangerous self-deception, and slowly morphs into far more deadly territory.

The fine supporting cast starts with Ryan Philippe as an FBI agent in charge of the case, doggedly pursuing leads and talking to witnesses in a flat-toned, affectless manner that is entirely convincing because he doesn't sound like an actor playing a tough-guy Law Enforcement Dude; he's just trying to find the guy. Idina Menzel effectively portrays Melanie, a lonely mother who gets sucked into Jason Derek Brown's orbit.

Shantel VanSanten, so good on Apple TV+'s For All Mankind, here plays the smaller but crucial role of Jamie Brown, the lovingly supportive sister who has no idea about her brother's true nature. Jacki Weaver scorches the screen as Jeanne Brown, who knows exactly what kind of person her son has come to be, though even she doesn't know the everything about him and what he threatens to become.

The film elides many tropes or excesses that might be expected from its title. Instead, it paints a portrait of a murderous character whose poisonous behavior proved to be suffocating for anyone who touched him.

The film is now available to watch in the U.S. on various Video On Demand platforms via Lionsgate. It opens internationally on January 30 via Universal. Visit director Matthew Gentile's official site for more information.

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Idina MenzelJacki WeaverMatthew GentileRyan PhilippeTom PelphreyUS

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