A neo-noir thriller featuring a stoic, if not subdued turn, by Harvey Keitel, and some nice action by the underrated Danny Cannon, makes The Young Americans worth a watch if you’re tired of the usual action flick.
Plot: John Harris(Keitel), a veteran LA cop, is sent to London to advise the local police about the crime wave that’s hit their streets. But Harris has an ulterior motive that will soon be revealed when things turn deadly.
Review: A lost gem of the early 90s, The Young Americans was the feature debut of music video helmer Danny Cannon (Phoenix, Judge Dredd), and he showed significant promise with this stylish crime flick.
Of course Keitel is total gangbusters as the hard-nosed American cop seconded to London, but Keitel infuses his older cop with a hint of regret about the choices he’s made in life that makes his character a memorable, and tragic, figure.
A lot of the supporting players in this pic went on to much bigger things. Thandie Newton plays the love interest of a young teen central to the plot, and she gets to show her acting chops on more than one occasion. A then little-known Viggo Mortensen plays the villain – a seductively dangerous figure who’s good at coercing impressionable teens into dealing his drugs. First time composer David Arnold went on to compose five films in the James Bond film series after this pic.
While not a big budget film, the pic has a dark, slick veneer that perfectly suits the grim nature of the plot, and Cannon effectively handles the film’s action scenes with aplomb. The film opens with a bloody shooting on a Blade Runner-esque London street and we’re treated to car bombing shortly after that ends horrifically. Along the way we get some fisticuffs, but the closing confrontation in a packed nightclub is riddled with tension and gunfire.
Many critics complained that the film’s message about wayward youth was lost amongst the violence and techno music, but those elements are merely a capsule for Cannon and screenwriter David Hilton to deliver their message and I feel those snobby critics have missed the point.
Featuring cool cinematography, gritty London locales, and a hard-boiled performance by Keitel, The Young Americans is a crime thriller for the discernible viewer.