If you’re open to such things, it boggles the mind how little most Western New Yorkers think about their close proximity to Niagara Falls. We spend years – decades even – at a time never thinking much about the falls until some exposure yet again reminds us of what a singular and stupendous site it is.
There is a shot in Jenna Ricker’s enjoyable fiesta of area locations “The American Side” that pressed me back into my seat and stunned me. It’s merely a shot of actors standing next to the railing that keeps visitors from falling into the water at the exact point that the water thunders over the falls.
Unless we’ve seen it lately, we tend to forget the harrowing force of that image. We forget the terrifying power of the water as it goes over the falls to the rocks below.
It’s just ordinary dialogue being filmed but because of where it is, it’s a stunning cinematic moment.
Time to go out on a bit of a limb here. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a film that was recently made here that made better use of area sights and locations than “The American Side.” We’re talking then about a long list of films: “Best Friends,” “Hide in Plain Sight,” “Henry’s Crime,” “Buffalo ‘66,” “Canadian Bacon,” “The Savages.”
Up until now, the leaders in that regard have been Barry Levinson’s “The Natural” and the Burton Family’s “Manna From Heaven.” But the location work in “The American Side” even surpasses that.
It’s a little bit of mildly wacko noir co-written by Ricker and star Greg Stuhr of Eden. Stuhr plays a “low-rent” private eye named Paczynski who investigates a suicide in the Falls and winds up wading up to his clavicles in upper class corruption and the futuristic theories of Nikola Tesla, the visionary genius who, among many other things, gave us alternating current.
This is all more than a little nuts as it’s worked out in the film, which is, quite frankly, all to the film’s good. The idea of a film made in Buffalo with its huge quantity of available locations being cautious and conventional just won’t do.
If you’re going to make a film here, let’s be Tesla-bold about it.
At this point frankness is necessary. This is not major league independent filmmaking. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Triple A ball – full of tough-guy wit and suspense and cleverness but not quite in the majors.
There is nothing wrong with minor league baseball as dedicated fans to Coca-Cola Field well know. Games there can be exciting, well-played, showered in glorious summer sun and accompanied by ballpark food that isn’t like food anywhere else.
It’s just not the major leagues is all.
Nor is “The American Side.” The cast, though, is rather amazing. Cameos, small roles and passers-by in this film starring its co-writer are the following; Matthew Broderick, (Rochester’s) Robert Forster, Janeane Garofalo, Grant Shaud, Robert Vaughn, Harris Yulin, Buffalo- raised Joe Grifasi and UB professor/character actor Stephen McKinley Henderson.
The film, then, will be a different matter for area moviegoers than it will be for others. For us, it is unfailingly enjoyable – good in almost every way.
One wonders what the principals could do with truly major monetary resources.
2.5 stars (Out of four)
Title: “The American Side”
Starring: Greg Stuhr, Alicja Bachleda, Matthew Broderick, Robert Forster, Janeane Garofalo, Grant Shaud
Director: Jenna Ricker
Running time: 90 minutes
Rating: No rating but PG-13 equivalent.
The Lowdown: Film noir made in Buffalo with top level cast.