Donald Sutherland and Vincent Kartheiser square off against each other in a modern look at the justice system in American Hangman, now available from premium video on demand retailers.
Stories that explore human nature have always interested me. Though as I’ve mentioned in the past, horror was not really a genre that interested me. As I’ve started looking at films, I find myself looking for stories that use fear and tension as their central themes. Wilson Coneybeare’s American Hangman presents an interesting take on those themes.
Featuring Donald Sutherland and Vincent Kartheiser, American Hangman opens to a man being dragged across the cement floor of a cellar, somewhere. That’s the film’s brilliance – it doesn’t define where in the world we are; all we know is that we could be anywhere. It is also this film’s deterrence as well, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.
The dragged man is brought to a rest and his sack unzipped. Much like the audience, this man is unaware of his surroundings, other than being surrounded by numerous cameras as well as another, unidentified man. Through the next few minutes, we are introduced to Mr. Straight (Sutherland). Our antagonist begins to question both men, eventually begins webcasting the confinement of the men and we quickly realize that they are being judged. This brings us to the outside world. The man, Henry David Cole (Kartheiser), uses the mock court to try the judge who convicted the wrong individual over a disappearance some years prior to this story while Cole uses his anonymous webcast to draw a captive audience in.
Coneybeare’s story raises all kinds of themes that modern society still doesn’t have answers for, but the most damning theme is that of justice. No matter how effective we are at solving cases, the story makes it clear that the evidence we collect still can lead to an erroneous judgement. Mr. Kartheiser was extremely adept at being relentless, his purpose clear. Mr. Sutherland’s Judge Straight was equally adept at being in the dark as Cole offers clues about the mystery in front of us as the outside world puts the pieces of the puzzle together.
Although not as effective as Searching, American Hangman does offer a modern way to look at a procedural investigation, especially one that tackles the Justice System. One issue that I had with the story was that once it opens up to the external world, the story loses some of its tension.
Mr. Kartheiser does maintain that tension as best as he can, making a formidable threat. What caught my attention was that his character was not necessarily a villain; yes he does morally questionable things, but he is not necessarily in the wrong for his actions.
That’s also this story’s deterrence. As strong as the character is, as strong as each of their performances are, there is only one, logical conclusion and the story pigeonholes us into that conclusion, something we’ve seen multiple times before. We might not like the inevitable conclusion because it makes us uncomfortable. The strong performances and the camerawork from Mark Irwin enhance this experience, but it cannot overcome the tediousness of the formula that this story is based on.
You can see a clip from the film here.
American Hangman is now available on multiple VOD services and has not been rated by the MPAA.