Indie Memphis Film Festival 2020: AMERICAN THIEF

When I heard the synopsis for American Thief, from writer and director Miguel Silveira, it was a film that seemed appropriately timed. A hacker out for revenge that is inadvertently pulled into the 2016 election. With only days remaining before this year’s election, there was a relevancy to the past that screamed to be seen. While it boasts gorgeous cinematography throughout the streets of New York City and framing that captures it beautifully, American Thief fails to find cohesion in its message and in its narrative.

A Solid Beginning

American Thief’s opening is certainly intriguing, a Matrix-like American flag of code assembling on screen before your eyes. There is a feeling of domestic and international espionage, hidden messages in the code only a few percentages of the world could understand and further manipulate. It immediately jumps to awkwardly shot angles of a building, one a “man in a van” claims holds all our information, an algorithm manipulating more than just our shopping habits. As we leave the Man in a Van’s YouTube channel, viewers are taken through the streets of New York City, intense music accompanying the citizens and visitors of NYC, all while imagery and voiceover speeches form the 2016 campaign trail are overheard.

Indie Memphis Film Festival 2020: AMERICAN THIEF
source: Indie Memphis Film Festival

There is an excitement as these moments pass, a feeling that something is about to be unearthed, an unknown nugget of truth presented to the audience. But the film immediately brings us to our central figure, Toncruz (Xisko Maximo Monroe), as he masterfully hacks a random stranger’s computer – all while his friends look on in a Halo unified fashion. In these first ten minutes, American Thief has your attention – a grip it sadly begins to lose moments later.

Lacking Cohesion

American Thief begins to lose its focus shortly after – more so a lack of cohesive nature between relevancy and narrative. The film begins to feel like a stream of consciousness in filmmaking going from conversations of the teens, games of pool and ping pong mirroring their age and computer hacking “ga22mes”, to deep examinations into the Black Live Matter movement and the challenges of the black community. Both are important, yet one feels more heavily weighted for the first half of the film, pulling the story away from the synopsis that is promised. While the narrative does begin to hone in on its central story, the film has already progressed a little over a third of its run time, threatening to have already lost many of its viewers.

American Thief could have been a strong film, relevant not only to the year it is set in but to the present times around us. At one point, the Man in a Van is asking “What is going on? What the fuck is going on?” Many of us have asked this since the 2016 election, and many are still asking today, and coupled with the film’s imagery, displaying how little has changed since 2016 – and even what we have lost since then – it seems to be a question with no certainty of expiration.

Indie Memphis Film Festival 2020: AMERICAN THIEF
source: Indie Memphis Film Festival

As the films reaches its second half, labeled “2: The Algorithm Is Always Right”, the inclusion of the Black Live Matter movement falls to the wayside, voiceovers of election footage returning and feelings of justice versus revenge forming. The problem is that when the reason for the revenge and the need for justice is presented, the film has failed to derive any connection with the audience, leaving its reveal to fall flat and feel numbing. There is relevancy, an important takeaway, yet it is lost in the film’s lack of cohesion and delay in introducing the heart of the story.

Final Thoughts

I wanted so much for this film to find its direction several times through my viewing. There was so much potential in the social climate it was trying to interweave, mixed with the possibility of hackers having a hand in the turnout of the election (or failed turnout depending on how you look at the results and the hackers themselves). If only the film had stepped back from its seemingly erratic editing and truly focused on what it wanted to say, there was a chance the cohesion could have been more centralized and unified. Unfortunately, American Thief is left as a stream of consciousness only the filmmaker may truly understand.

American Thief screened at Indie Memphis Film Festival on October 21st. 

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