Viggo Mortensen has talked about having taken certain roles just to pay the bills, and it's usually not hard to tell which ones they are. They're generally in movies you've never heard of, like American Yakuza or The Young Americans. With this in mind, I did not have high expectations for The Young Americans. In fact, with Harvey Keitel as the leading man, I anticipated a lot of violence, profanity, and nudity, but The Young Americans is totally okay. It's actually pretty tasteful.
I wish I could say something more compelling on the movie's behalf, but it's just one of those films that isn't bad enough to complain about or good enough to ever watch again. There is a nice score that features a Bjork song, the acting is fairly good, but something in the story is lacking.
I don't know if I didn't pay proper attention, or if the plot was just a little bit unclear. Harvey Keitel plays a New York cop who travels to London to act as an adviser to the London police after a string of, um, crimes. You know, murders, drug deals, stabbings, bribes... All are perpetuated by a group of young hoodlums, headed by one Mr. Carl Frazer (Viggo!). He's an American who recruits young Londoners into a life of crime. Shame on him!
I thought the movie was going to be all about Harvey Keitel's character, but suddenly a seemingly minor character begins acting as an informant to the police. Before you know it, it seems like he's the protagonist. The trouble with movies full of little-known actors is that you never know who to keep an eye on. Christian, the now-central minor character played by Craig Kelly, is actually quite engaging. He's got all sorts of problems balancing good guys and thugs, and it's easy enough to sympathize with him. His life is on the line, and so are the lives of the people he loves, including his new girlfriend, played by a young Thandie Newton.
As for Viggo—oh, how I wish his part had been bigger! He's given precious little screen time, but it sure is nice to see him. He's livin' large as the cool, impeccably dressed ring leader, and he's all about fast cars, excessive parties, and getting what he wants. He exists more as a legend than a physical presence in the movie, and just when you're starting to enjoy his badness, he gets shot full of holes. Man!
In the end Harvey heads home, having helped to clean up London. At the airport he makes the last of many phone calls to his estranged wife (obligatory in police dramas), and arranges to visit his kids. I guess seeing all the delinquents in London made him want to be more involved with his own children... or maybe he just needed someplace to kill time during his layover. Who cares? There is no momentum to the story, and no real moral in the end. Things just happen for 103 minutes as the characters give each other meaningful glances.
I'm pretty sure that if this movie is ever released as a special edition, they will want to quote this very review on the cover art. I might as well make it easy for them:
Before Lord of the Rings, Viggo Mortensen was Lord of the Crimes. Don't miss his brief but excellent performance in The Young Americans, one of the most totally okay movies of our time.
Studios don't need fake reviewers like David Manning when they've got me!