Directed by Wilson Coneybeare, American Hangman is a thriller that attempts to shine a lot on several topics such as trial by media, the impact of social media, the criminal justice system, and one of the favorite boogeymen: the death penalty. Unfortunately, the film’s own hypocrisy crushes any point it tries to make. There are some spoilers.
Retired Judge Oliver Straight (Donald Sutherland) has been kidnapped by a mysterious man (Vincent Kartheiser), who claims to be the uncle of a murdered girl who the judge presided over the criminal trial of the accused (who was recently executed for the crime). The kidnapper is streaming the Oliver’s ordeal on the internet and offering a trial by social media, claiming that the judge sent an innocent to die for a crime he did not commit. The viewers can decide if the judge is guilty or innocent of this crime. It soon becomes clear that the kidnapper is Henry David Cole, the actual killer who thinks justice was not served as an innocent man died in his place.
After ambitious journalist, Darnley (Jess Salgueiro), picks up the story, it goes nationwide, causing a leap in the voting process. Meanwhile, police Lt. Roy (Oliver Dennis) tries to find out if the investigation and trial into the girl’s death were mishandled as well as locating the judge.
The movie had some positive qualities. Sutherland, Kartheiser, Salgueiro, and Dennis all perform their roles adequately. The movie had some genuine chills, disturbing moments, and it presented an interesting concept.
However, the movie loses its footing on the moral questions it is trying to highlight. For instance, Cole is the actual killer and he has kidnapped a judge who put away an innocent man, but why did not he come forward sooner? He claims to have sent evidence to the police anonymously and blames the inept way the investigation was done for not being found. This is incredibly stupid. If he felt bad about an innocent ‘gay’ man (of course they emphasize this), he should have just come forward, you know during the trial when it would have mattered. Instead, he waits years for an innocent man to die in his place and he blames the police (whom everyone acknowledges found the victim’s body on the accused property). Then he kidnaps the judge, lies about who he is, kills an innocent man just to prove he is “serious,” and broadcasts it live. It seems nothing more than an attention grab.
But, the film’s hypocrisy does not end there. The movie goes back and forth between criticism and praise for the media. First, the press is spinning the story, both past and present, for ratings and then the film twists to try to show the media in a positive light. Well, which is it? Is this a trial by media? Is the judge facing a trial by social media? Is that good? Is it bad? Make up your mind. Of course, the directors get a dig at the police. For the whole movie, the question of judicial fairness has been at play, but then it turns into just another tired, unoriginal anti-cop scree.
Finally, the innocent man who was executed and the victim of the original crime are never shown. The girl very briefly, but after that, they disappear. The whole movie’s premise is based on an innocent man supposedly dying over the girl’s murder, yet, they do not show either of them in any prominence. How am I supposed to feel sorry for a man I have never seen? But no, not a single photo. I have a sinking feeling this was done on purpose as a metaphor representing the “faceless” victims of the legal system. Unfortunately, it just fell flat.
Bottom line, while the acting is good and the concept compelling, American Hangman falters on its own sense of moral superiority. It gambles on the audience’s focus on the chilling moments to ignore these issues, but they are not even subtle. It is blatantly obvious and amateurish in its approach to the morality it is trying to present.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Violent images, Foul language, Disturbing images
FAVORITE QUOTE: You do not have the right to try this case.
Check out the trailer below:
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below. Tell me if there is a comic book, movie, or novel you would like me to review. While you are at it, here my thoughts on Mark Waid’s Irredeemable on StudioJake. Also, check out my review of the Star Trek: Discovery season two. Don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe for more posts like this one.