American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
In the opening moments of "Little Odessa," a hit man played by Tim Roth walks quickly across a street toward a man on a park bench, and shoots him dead. Then he goes to a telephone to report that the job has been done. He learns that his next job will take him to the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn. Not there, he says. He can't go back there.
But he does, and we learn that he has been running from this neighborhood - settled by Jews from Russia - and from his past, ever since he was banished by his father for committing an earlier murder, maybe his first. Still living there are his father, his mother, a kid brother, and the girl he walked out on when he fled Brighton Beach.
It is, we gather, risking his life to go back there, but the hit man, named Joshua Shapira, is not too clever about escaping notice. He checks into a local hotel for several days. He visits a social club, and sits in the window. Soon even his kid brother, Reuben (Edward Furlong), knows he's back, and they meet at Nathan's on the boardwalk, on a cold winter day. He looks up the girl, Alla (Moira Kelly), and they go to a movie. And he returns home to visit his dying mother (Vanessa Redgrave), but his father (Maximilian Schell) throws him out, crying "murderer!" Soon Joshua is involved again in the local crime scene; he has been hired to do a killing, others are hoping to kill him, and there are old scores to settle. One of them is with his father, who takes off his belt to beat the younger brother, and who is eventually humiliated by Joshua - made to disrobe in a vacant field and anticipate his own death. This scene, inspired perhaps by an equally unpleasant but more plausible scene in "Miller's Crossing," brings the film to a shuddering halt.
The whole undercurrent of child abuse in the movie is unconvincing, and doesn't provide much of an explanation for Joshua becoming a hit man. I felt as if the whole crime plot of the movie had been imposed on the underlying story, to make the project more commercial.