DVD Review: American Bomber

STUDIO: IndiePix | DIRECTOR: Eric Trenkamp  | CAST: Michael C. Freeland, Rebekah Nelson, Kenny Wade Marshall, Pamela Tate
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 12/19/2013 | PRICE: DVD $19.95
BONUSES: film festival Q&A, short film, blooper reel
SPECS: NR | 90 min. | Crime drama | 1.66:1 widescreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

 

 

“Amateurish” is usually used as a synonym for “bad,” especially when discussing art­ but it actually describes a vast group of creative works by nonprofessionals that most of us will never see, simply because they lack a certain professional polish deemed “un­-commercial.”

American Bomber,  writer/director Eric Trenkamp’s feature debut, is very much a work of amateur cinema. It tells the unconventional story of John Hidell (Michael C. Freeland,) a dishonorably discharged soldier who makes his way to New York City for a suicide bombing mission. You’re never really sure why he wants to do this—the first part of the film is a confusing mixture of present­-day narrative fiction (John’s story about getting discharged) with pseudo­documentary interviews of people from John’s life that presumably paint a portrait of his psychologically unstable past.

Which sounds like an interesting mystery, except that the acting, dialogue, and camerawork are completely amateurish, a forgivable trait if this were, say, your pal’s senior college project. As an official commercial release, however, the mystery here lies in figuring out why IndiePix chose this, out of hundreds of indie movies, to distribute.

American Bomber movie scene

Michael C. Freeland and Rebekah Nelson in American Bomber.

Presumably, it’s the controversial topic.

It’s unfortunate, but the film never provides the slightest insight into suicide bombers. John Hidell seems more like an offbeat hipster who takes a bus trip into the city, where he meets Amy (Rebekah Nelson) a Brooklyn bartender who’s charmed enough by this oddball character to let him into her bed, taking the film on a weird detour, as both Hidell and the film forget the suicide mission for some fun NYC romance. Surprisingly, Freeland and Nelson (by far the best actor in the film) actually have some decent on­screen chemistry, and their scenes together feel like another movie entirely, one that’s 180° from the rest of the film. It doesn’t help that director Trenkamp drops the documentary shtick halfway through, except for some occasional rants by a creepy inmate named Speiler (Kenny Wade Marshall), whom Hidel met while in prison and who is presumably the mastermind behind this terrorist mission.

Without any clear sense of visual style or narrative thrust, American Bomber meanders, only making sense (somewhat) in retrospect—an abstracted summary of what you guess was in the director’s mind, as opposed to what actually made it on tape. Given that Trenkamp clearly believes the film works, the director’s commentary track is inadvertently awkward, as is the film festival Q&A clip (with a supposed domestic terrorism expert who praises the film) and an even more awkward bloopers reel (given the serious & amateurish tone of the movie.) The bonus short film (also called American Bomber) is basically all of the fake documentary interviews from the first part of the film cut together, leading one to the realization that the feature grew out of this short (which explains the clunky stylistic jumps.)

You can learn a lot from the flaws found in amateur films, and they always carry a certain charm missing from professional works—two reasons why you might want to check this out. But if you’re looking for insights into the mind of a suicide bomber done in an artful way, you might be better off renting Paradise Now.

 

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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.