Title: American Empire
Director: Patrea Patrick
A jumbled nonfiction jeremiad of raw-nerve feeling built around at once ominous and vague proclamations of “where we’re going” as a country, “American Empire” is like a vitamin B-boosted espresso shot for left-leaning paranoiacs. A whispery, overwritten voiceover of dread by someone who sounds a lot like a dinner theater Holly Hunter impersonator doesn’t much help matters, but director Patrea Patrick’s film chiefly suffers from a scattershot focus that finds it alighting on a variety of social and economic issues without ever really connecting the dots in grand fashion like it believes it’s doing.
After a meandering preamble (a sign of things to come), the movie settles into a brief history of the Federal Reserve Act, a sort of cartel agreement forged on Jekyll Island in 1910 by Frank Vanderlip, lieutenants of J.P. Morgan and other titans of finance. Before “American Empire” can fully devolve into a rage stimulus package for disaffected Ron Paul followers (“Audit the Fed!”), however, it spins off into issues of agriculture — including food security, genetic modification and independence from monoculture cropping — water safety and other environmental concerns, only to then double back to corporate tax avoidance and other issues of fiscal fairness and a level economic playing field.
There are a few arresting flashes of what passes for new (or at least very under-reported) news, like WikiLeaks revealing U.S. cables that the government drew up plans to retaliate against European nations who resisted GMO seed crops. But “American Empire,” in its slapdash construction and lazy attempts to appeal in back-patting fashion to its core constituency (“Smart people now can see the writing on the wall,” says one interview subject), never builds up a head of steam. Instead it merely lurches to and fro, passing off as incontestable the passionate opinions of its many interviewed authors, academics and activists. “I think the empire is revealing itself, in many respects — it’s becoming pretty obvious that dastardly deeds are being done,” says one interviewee; “Clearly there will be attempts to resist [change], and shoot people,” says another. Well… not really clearly.
To boot, Patrick’s production value leaves much to be desired; stock footage and edited news clips are choppily interspersed amidst interview tidbits, with little care for contextual elucidation. By the time the movie delves into “codex aliementarius,” endorsing fringe assertions that United Nations agreements are being imposed on top of American law, it comes off as truly black helicopter stuff — the unhinged, barely comprehensible rantings of a well-educated nutter, but a nutter nonetheless. There’s the well-meaning soul of a connected, socially conscious citizen here, it’s just that the manic, poorly made “American Empire” is a notably deficient vessel for its (many) messages.
NOTE: “American Empire” opens in Los Angeles this week at the Laemmle Town Center 5 in Encino. For more information about the movie, visit its website, www.AmericanEmpireTheDocumentary.com.
Written by: Brent Simon
A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.