A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The story suggests that engaging in illegal activities will take you down a darker path, but there's no clearly positive takeaway.
Positive Role Models
A mother firmly puts her foot down to separate love for her child from the act of condoning his scams. A law enforcement agent is depicted positively, but there's no insight to who he is beyond the case. A scam artist is shown getting trust, attention, respect, and women by appearing wealthy with items like boats, ATVs, etc.
This fact-based story about a con man in Utah features mostly White actors, but there are a few Latino actors in small, supporting roles; their characters are featured as the voice of reason. Women are depicted as being attracted to a man because of his wealth.
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Violence & Scariness
Deadly shooting. Character is beaten up and left bloody and bruised. Character threatened with a gun to the head.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Simulated sex. An exotic dancer's breasts are exposed; other dancers at the club are scantily clad. Kissing. Bikini-clad women flank a guy who appears to have money, with two women kissing him at the same time.
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Extreme strong language, including constant use of "f--k," plus "goddamn," "loser," "p---y." "Slut" is a neon sign in a nightclub.
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Products & Purchases
Golf brands are seen on the golf course.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Cocaine snorted on camera. People smoke pot while driving. Cigarettes after sex. Drinking throughout, including doing shots, which is shown as fun. A minor character suffers consequences from drinking to excess. A child drinks whiskey at his father's instruction.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that American Murderer is the fact-based story of a con artist-turned-killer on the FBI's Most Wanted list. Other than having a terrible father (Kevin Corrigan), there's not much insight into what led Jason Derek Brown (Tom Pelphrey) to pursue a life of crime. It's clear that his charisma allowed him to pull off scams, but viewers will perceive him negatively. He projects an image of success through flashy material goods like expensive boats and vehicles, which are portrayed as being appealing to women and the kids in his neighborhood. A visit to a strip cub shows women barely dressed, at least one with her breasts exposed. There are also a couple of brief sex scenes. Cocaine, pot, and cigarettes are used on screen and portrayed as a way to bond with someone. Characters also drink, including shots. Language, especially "f--k," is extreme and constant. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
The hunt for criminal on the run Brown is interesting but not extraordinarily cinematic. The looming question is: Why tell Brown's story? His criminal acts, as portrayed in American Murderer, are despicable, but they don't rise to the level of some others who top the FBI's Most Wanted list. Psychological insights can be compelling in these types of stories, but little is offered other than to suggest that Brown was following in the footsteps of his father -- and even that's underwhelming. The FBI agent (Ryan Phillippe) hot on Brown's trail lacks dimension; it feels like Brown is just another perp he has to pursue. Movies aren't made about just any suspect or just another investigation -- viewers need to feel like they're watching THE case and THE suspect in the career of an investigator. Otherwise, why bother?
At least, due to Pelphrey's fantastic performance, Brown isn't portrayed with empathy or made aspirational. The movie depicts Brown as a cocky, world-class scumbag. He's loud, obnoxious, and bereft of morals or conscience. If the film had a different ending, audiences might want to see more nuance, but Brown isn't a guy who particularly deserves compassion. And kudos to the hair and wardrobe departments: Pelphrey's blonde spikes, co-star Idina Menzel's aggressive bangs, and the belly-baring blouses nail the early 2000s setting. But beyond those impressive elements, the reason that anyone would want to spend time retracing the steps of a jerk like Brown proves elusive.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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