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Saturday, 17 July 2010

A Canadian film, The American Trap (dir Charles Biname, 2008) is probably a lot better in a lot of ways than the other film that pretends to solve the mystery behind the assassination of John F Kennedy, America's most-favoured president: 1991's JFK directed by the famed Oliver Stone.

JFK met his untimely end in 1963 in Dallas when he was hit, we are told, by a bullet fired from a gun held by one Lee Harvey Oswald. Biname and his writers suggest that the various US law-enforcement bodies, in league with the US mafia, were behind the hit.

Like Stone, Biname introduces us to an assortment of shady characters. In the film we're looking at, The American Trap, the majority of these are French-speaking Canadian drug barons who bring heroin into the US hidden in automobiles. Of primary importance is Lucien Rivard (Rémy Girard), a savvy and competent middle-man who takes orders from Paul Mondolini (Gérard Darmon). On the sidelines sits a spook, Maurice Bishop (Colm Freore). And in the middle there's an unfortunate and appealing woman named Rose Cheramie (Janet Lane).

The best part of the film is conducted in French and the dialog is very, very fast. This combination of elements means you have to concentrate very hard to keep up with the action. There's not a lot of leeway if you blink too often or even if you choose to take a sip of coffee from time to time. I recommend keeping your eyes glued firmly on the screen throughout the film's 110 minutes because one trip to the lavatory will mean sacrificing a heap of references that will be relied upon later by the filmmakers in yet another crucial scene.

This speed of conception is usually, in my view, an indicator of quality in a film.

As an index of how fast the film moves, no camera shot takes more than a few seconds. There's a lot of period recreation here, too, especially in Dallas and New Orleans. Many other scenes take place at disused industrial sites - which are timeless and therefore require no costly set-up. This was a clever decision by the filmmakers as it would have helped to keep down costs.

The plot is also clever and would definitely reward a second viewing. A primary event is the uncovering by the Narcotics Squad of a shipment of heroin from Mexico. The cop who uncovers this - based on a tip-off - is Jeffrey Cohen (Joe Cobden). But Cohen has bigger fish to fry and this will lead to his downfall in a typically understated scene shot along a Southern backroad with a refinery as backdrop. Cohen's downfall and Rivard's survival are the primary ways the filmmakers tell us that the nexus of effort coordinated by the spooks and the mob led all the way to the Dallas Book depository and beyond.

A lot less muscular than Stone's work, The American Trap is also a lot more interesting. Watch it again and again, because you'll find things out here that you missed the first time around.

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