American Hero

Jun 29, 2016 | Posted by in 2016, EIFF
EIFF 2016

A New Orleans resident with the power to move things with his mind tries to get his life back on track so that he can see his son again in Nick Love’s American Hero.

This is a really interesting film as it comes very close to being great but keeping falling just shy of the mark. The story starts as if it were a mockumentary as the camera following a handful of characters with them occasionally interacting with it. As a stylistic choice this was an interesting one to play around with but it becomes fairly clear early on that it isn’t working the way it needs to so any fourth wall breaks diminish as the story goes on.

If something isn’t working then it is absolutely fine to not go with it but having it linger at different points of the film feels jarring. It comes across as an element that was cut when large chunks had already been filled that couldn’t be changed. As such the narrative is basically a patchwork of different ideas that never quite hang together.

American HeroThe characters are the most compelling part of this film. Melvin (Stephen Dorff) is the man with powers and he has no idea what to do with them. He completely misuses them by doing things like lifting his friend Lucille (Eddie Griffin) while in his wheelchair or as party tricks to impress women.

He is completely aimless and that’s what is most interesting about him. Having such a damaged human being with these extraordinary abilities is a really fascinating story and Dorff does an excellent job of keeping Melvin grounded in reality. He never stops feeling like a real person and has some very relatable struggles.

On a very basic level his arc is about finding a purpose in this world and finding a way to use his abilities to benefit people in some way but he struggles to get past his self destructive nature. There’s a point in the film where he tries to turn his life around by leaving all of the drugs and alcohol behind to focus on self improvement but a setback knocks him back into his old pattern of behaviour. It does happen too quickly but it’s interesting to watch and Dorff gives the character so much humanity that it really works.

Lucille is a great character as well and provides most of the comedy in the film. Any interaction between Lucille and Melvin is great to watch and the two actors have such a natural chemistry that it is easy to believe that they’re friends. Lucille is an interesting mirror for Melvin as he is confined to a wheelchair so feels trapped where Melvin is able to do extraordinary things but feels trapped by his own mental limitations.

As I said, there’s lots of interesting stuff going on here but none of it develops to the point where any kind of point is made about anything. The ending feels cheap, unearned and tacked on because it offers a resolution that doesn’t feel satisfying.

On a visual level the film is really impressive. Melvin’s powers are incredibly well realised and feel natural when integrated into this world. There are definitely no complaints about how the film uses its budget when showing what Melvin is capable of.


An interesting film that doesn’t quite live up to its potential despite the abundance of good ideas. The characters are the strongest thing here with a really natural friendship between the two main characters. Unfortunately the story never quite finds focus and has an ending that feels completely unsatisfying. It’s a worthwhile watching experience for sure but there is a better film just under the surface.

  • 7.5/10
    American Hero - 7.5/10


Kneel Before…

  • strong characters
  • impressive visuals
  • lots of interesting ideas

Rise Against…

  • an unfocused plot
  • the whole thing not quite working despite the good ideas
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