Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Director Avgerinos has an editing background and it shows in a surfeit of visual ideas which communicate Jason's disordered mental state very effectively but sometimes threaten to overwhelm the viewer."

What triggered the global economic crisis on 2008? There are still some differing opinions out there but nobody disputes where it started: in the US housing market. This film, opening with George Bush's promises of easy access mortgages for everyone, promises to tell us how the rot began. It does so through a fictional tale "based on true events" - more accessible than the average documentary and, though occasionally preachy, generally not too far from the established facts.

Beau Martin Williams is Jason, a sometime college football player past his prime with a receding hairline, a stressed wife and a small time job as a door steward. Into his life walks former classmate Devin (Matt Funke), flashily dressed and fast-talking, saying there may be a job in the city. It's a one-time opportunity, he says. Why not get rich? he asks. Many of us would run a mile, especially when he uses the words "commission only," but Jason's frustrated sporting ambitions have left him with a hole in his life. Pretty soon he's sitting in a strip club, living the life he might have imagined for himself as a kid, and by the time he starts to feel moral consternation, he's in very deep indeed.

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Devin's business is based around selling the Option ARM (Adjustable Rate Mortgage) to clients who don't understand that the reason their payments are so low to begin with is that there's nothing to protect them from rising at terrifying speeds. Jason, as naive as his clients, apparently fails to understand this at first and talks his friend Theo (Trai Byers, the film's most impressive actor) into buying one, thereby getting personally entangled in the consequences. Over time, it's clear that he is beginning to develop suspicions, but a combination of Devin's sleazy assurances and constant drugged-up parties keeps him from thinking too hard. It's only when things begin to get really bad - nationwide bad - that he realises he has to take action.

Director Avgerinos has an editing background and it shows in a surfeit of visual ideas which communicate Jason's disordered mental state very effectively but sometimes threaten to overwhelm the viewer; ironically, thy could have done with a bit of judicious editing to even the pace, but this may have proven too difficult whilst keeping the film at exhibition length. It's certainly more visually interesting than many of its ilk and the sex and drugs should tempt in viewers not overly attracted to the idea of a lecture on finance. As it happens, it's an actual lecture that eventually forces Jason to see the light. Concisely delivered, this sets things out in very clear terms that anyone should be able to make sense of. It also places the blame squarely on the Bush administration.

This is a film which sometimes feels a little too neat and too forgiving of its central character as it tries to balance audience sympathy with getting across just how much harm he's done. There are more potent underlying ideas, however, as when he realises that his colleagues - whilst they're aware of that harm - don't have any real understanding of the context of what they're doing, of its relationship with the wider economy. It's a carefully underplayed moment that's ultimately more disturbing than anything in the central plot.

An ambitious attempt to tell a very pertinent story, Americons is a good choice for those who figure they've been hoodwinked but want to know more about how it happened.

Reviewed on: 23 Jan 2015
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A former college sportsman is drawn into exploitative real estate scamming in the run-up to the US housing market crash.

Director: Theo Avgerinos

Writer: Beau Martin Williams, Matt Funke

Starring: Beau Martin Williams, Matt Funke, Trai Byers, Sam McMurray, Jon Gries, Marlana Carter

Year: 2015

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US


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