When Buffalonians speak about Niagara Falls, they inevitably refer to “The American Side,” or “The Canadian Side,” which gave rise to the title of this extraordinary film. In addition, as a lifetime Buffalonian, I was highly interested in the frequent shots of my hometown, a place that has recently undergone a spectacular renaissance. I enjoyed watching views of familiar places such as Kleinhans Music Hall, Silo City, the Erie County Fair, Shea’s Buffalo Theater, Main Street with its trolleys, Ulrich’s Tavern, and many more. Two of the cast members are Buffalo-born - Greg Stuhr and Stephen Henderson. Greg Stuhr co-wrote the story, so he knew what he was talking about.
Nikola Tesla - Wikimedia
Nikola Tesla was a true visionary far ahead of his contemporaries in the field of scientific development. He was born in Croatia and immigrated to the United States in 1884 when he was 28 years old. He worked for Thomas Edison in his lab in New Jersey. Tesla and Edison disagreed about the virtues of direct current vs. alternating current. Edison needed to protect his investment in direct current equipment and facilities. Tesla developed an alternating current system and held over 40 patents on his creation. Tesla went into partnership with George Westinghouse for the nationwide use of electricity in America. Tesla was inducted into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 1975.
This description is a preamble to the story at hand, “The American Side.” Charlie Paczynski (Greg Stuhr) was a struggling Polish private investigator in Buffalo who was not against illegal activity to pad his bank account. Charlie was in a dubious business with a stripper named Kat who was murdered. Charlie began his search for the perpetrator which brought him into contact with a revolutionary invention regarding electricity by Tesla which had never seen the light. Tesla’s design was ahead of its time and had been stolen. Seventy years after the death of Tesla, a brilliant young female engineer, Nikki Meeker (Alicja Bachleda) found Tesla’s design and decided that Charlie Paczynski was the only one she could trust with her secret.
Alicja Bachleda - Wikimedia
A Tesla Document Was Missing
A woman came to Charlie’s apartment claiming to be Nikki Meeker. She was looking for a man named Tom Soberin and she wanted Charlie to find him for her. Supposedly, he lived in the Mayflower Apartments in Buffalo. He was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Charlie got on his trail and followed him when he took a bus to Niagara Falls. He wore a baseball hat with the letter P on it. Charlie approached Soberin and told him that Nikki Meeker said that Soberin had lost the Tesla document in question. Soberin asked that Nikki Meeker meet him at a restaurant. Before that could happen, Soberin was found dead. The police said it was a suicide, but Charlie did not believe that.
Charlie Meets the Owners of Chase Whitmore
Charlie went to a lecture on Tesla sponsored by a company called Chase Whitmore, owned by Borden Chase (Matthew Broderick) and Sterling Whitmore (Robert Forster). He tailed Whitmore after the lecture and met his partner, Borden Chase, who had given the lecture. Chase introduced Charlie to his sister Emily (Camilla Belle) who was actually the woman who came to Charlie stating that she was Nikki Meeker. Charlie did not believe their version of Soberin’s demise, that he had committed suicide.
Charlie Meets the Real Nikki Meeker
Charlie stopped in a church and was approached by a woman who was the real Nikki Meeker (Alicja Bachleda). She was looking for Soberin. She said she had been hired by Sterling Whitmore. She had given Soberin the Tesla document and when she got it back again, there was a mark on it, indicating an error, and made by Soberin. To her, it meant that Soberin wanted her to end her work with the document.
Matthew Broderick - Wikimedia
Special Agent Barry Visits Charlie
That evening at home, Charlie heard footsteps in his house. It was a woman, Special Agent Barry (Janeane Garofalo). She claimed that a notebook was missing which held half a design of one of Tesla’s unknown inventions. Nikki Meeker was the last one to have seen it. The notebook happened to be the Holy Grail for Serbian nationals, who shared their nationality with Tesla. Tesla, in his day, had envisioned television and computers. She told Charlie to bring Nikki in and the FBI would protect her and Charlie. Charlie learned later that the FBI had never heard of Agent Barry.
Nikki explained that she had burned the original copy. The invention was a sort of amplifier for energy. She had never seen anything like it. Tesla had actually beat out Edison. He was responsible for electrifying Buffalo. He stopped labeling his designs and split them in half. If someone had both halves and could put them together, that someone could change the world. The Code name for the project was Tinman. It was one of Tesla’s dreams. It was concerned with the energy of the ionosphere, the energy of every living thing. That’s why he split it in half. He hoped that it could someday be used as he intended, as long as it did not get into the wrong hands. Charlie burned it right then and there.
Niagara Falls - Wikimedia
Chase Had Both Halves of the Design
Charlie made a visit to Borden Chase and his sister Emily. He asked what Soberin was building for them. Chase said that Soberin was involved in Star Wars as well as the Manhattan Project. Chase brought out the design that was in his possession - a design that could be a blueprint for free energy - but it was indecipherable without both halves. However, Chase had both halves which would require Nikki to put it together. That is why she was so valuable in the scheme. She was the only one who had the whole picture in her memory.
A lot of scrambling took place. Emily was wounded. Nikki managed to escape. Charlie was unscathed. In the chaos, it was revealed that Charlie escaped by going over Niagara Falls in a barrel marked “The American Side.”
After things quieted down, Charlie went back to playing the pinball machine in his neighborhood bar. He took an envelope from his breast pocket; the envelope contained both parts of the design.
Too Complicated for This Viewer
The plot and the action in this film was complicated; yet it was compelling to watch. Buffalonians in particular would love this film. Some of the expressions are only heard in Buffalo. I was puzzled by a lot of the action, however. Perhaps being female put me at a disadvantage. Do not expect great revelations from this film; much of it is total fiction.
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