Review: “American Violence” is as Subtle as a Hammer

Review: American Violence is as Subtle as a Hammer

The death penalty has always been a heavily debated topic. Does it send the right message? Does it just cause more violence? Is it just as bad the acts performed by the murderers on death row? These questions, along with the motivations that lead people to violence, are asked in the new movie from Timothy Woodward, Jr in American Violence.

Dr. Amanda Tyler, played by Denise Richards, is a world renowned psychologist whose work focuses on determining the root cause of violence. She is soon given an opportunity to interview death row inmate Jackson Shea, played by Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau. As she learns about his life story and his path to violence, she must determine whether or not he deserves a stay of execution. A decision that gets harder and harder to make as the interview goes on.

Timothy Woodward, Jr. makes the most out of a script thatis fairly by-the-numbers and ham-fisted in its message. The film moves a long at a steady pace and the story of Jackson Shae is as disturbing as it is interesting.  Told in a series of flashbacks, these scenes drew me in and kept me interested. I particularly liked the part of the story where Shea is in prison and butts heads with the mean, old, crotchety Warden Morton, played fantastically by Bruce Dern.  There was also a part in the story where Shea ends up working with a thief named Martin. Michael Paré does well in the role as Martin and I wanted to see more of his character. Most of the supporting cast put in great performances; at times, the supporting performances surpassed those of the leading roles.

Mersereau does his best when he isn’t trying to be the crazy guy in the cage. Denise Richards does her best but I believe she was miscast for this role.  

The primary issue for the movie was the script. I am all for films who try to convey a message but American Violence is about as subtle as a hammer. It would have been better served as simply a film about a guy who has had horrible things happen to him and has done horrible things. Let the audience decide if he deserves the death penalty. The implied message of American Violence was that every inmate on death row deserves our sympathy. That their incarceration is not really their fault when this is not always the case. This will be a turnoff for some audience members and made me enjoy this film less than I had anticipated.

American Violence is a decent film in the technical aspects. The cinematography and music were well done and the strong supporting cast helped to keep the film interesting. The script and the over-messagey feel of the movie is where it weakens. Had a few changes been made to the dialog and the overall focus of the movie, I think this would be a solid thriller. I can only recommend it to fans of the actors in this film or if you are looking for a Lifetime movie with a violent edge. 

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