This re-imagining of the post-Vietnam War kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst is inspired, but misses its mark by a longshot.
Writer-director Semi Chellas was a writer on the episodic Mad Men, and yet, the tight-knit, introspective nature of that show is lost to a meandering plot in American Woman.
It has too much going on within it — too much rage, too much dissonance, too much boredom mistaken for intrigue — and as a result, it never becomes a cohesive whole.
However, it’s the in-step performance that make this film worthwhile. Hong Chau — a standout in Alexander Payne failure Downsizing — gives an intense, moving performance in the lead as a pacifist fighting the power in an unsettling American environment.
She’s joined by absolute treasure Sarah Gadon, as a girl from a rich family who we can’t quite figure out. Whether she has Stockholm Syndrome or is actually part of the resistance remains up in the air for much of the film, and Gadon sells the multi-layered performance perfectly.
John Gallagher Jr., who started his career as a docile John Krasinski-type in The Newsroom, has blown me away the last few years. He’s magnetic, foul and frankly unhinged here as a radicalized member of the resistance.
Throw in a racist supporting performance from the incomparable Ellen Burstyn, and you have a case where the performances hold up the film.