American Murderer: Is the 2022 Movie Based on a Real Conman?

The riveting crime drama movie, ‘American Murderer,’ stars Tom Pelphrey as Jason Derek Brown, a charming conman who supports his extravagant personal demands by pulling off different kinds of scams. When an FBI special agent named Lance Leising gets a hint of Brown’s foul play, he decides to do everything in his power to prove that Brown is guilty and bring him to justice. With Leising on his trail, his funds running low, and his past coming back to haunt him, Brown comes up with his most elaborate scheme to date. By doing so, Brown opens the ground for a deadly game of cat and mouse against Leising and consequently, becomes the most elusive criminal on the most-wanted list of the FBI.

Directed by Matthew Gentile, the thriller film, besides Tom Pelphrey, stars Idina Menzel, Ryan Philippe, Jacki Weaver, Paul Schneider, Shantel VanSanten, and Kevin Corrigan, and provides the viewers with several intricate and realistic details about the entire case, along with several true-to-life themes like a conman and a determined FBI agent trying to get to the bottom of the truth. This leads many of you to wonder if the story of  ‘American Murderer’ is rooted in reality or not. Well, let’s explore the same in a detailed manner, shall we?

The True Events Inspiring American Murderer

Yes, ‘American Murderer’ is based on a true story about Jason Derek Brown, who is a real-life fugitive wanted by the authorities on the charges of first-degree murder and armed robbery in Phoenix, Arizona. Born on July 1, 1969, Brown allegedly used to operate check and bank frauds in order to back his image of being a well-off businessman. Besides that, it is also believed that he would visit car dealerships and invest in a car using a false Social Security number and address. Henceforth, he was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List for about 15 years or so, and as of today, he still walks as a free man.

Before director and screenwriter Matthew Gentile could begin researching Jason Derek Brown to craft the screenplay, he had to know about him from somewhere. In a late October 2022 interview with Digital Trends, Gentile was asked how he came across Brown’s case. He explained, “Well, you just set me up perfectly to answer your question. I first learned about the case around the time it happened. I was 14 in 2004 when the movie is set and the crime took place. Before I wanted to be a filmmaker, I wanted to be an FBI agent.”

Gentile expanded further, “I used to go on the website and peruse the fugitives list and just see if I could help catch a criminal for them and get the reward money. It was really interesting. As I saw his name, his face really was what struck me, his mug shot, which we show in the film that he took at a gun store three weeks before the crime was committed. Here was this guy, a surfer dude with spiky blond hair, frosted tips, and a red hoodie. He stood out because you look at the FBI Top 10 list and you’re seeing guys like Osama bin Laden and Whitey Bulger.”

Furthermore, Gentile added, “I mean menacing criminal masterminds, and then this surfer dude punk from Southern California. Something about him didn’t fit the bill, you know? So the face I remembered it. Cut to 14 years later, I graduated film school at AFI, and I am trying to figure out what my first feature film is. I was, at the time, directing a commercial, and I was still in my apartment storyboarding. When I storyboard, I always have something on in the background. All of a sudden I had CNBC on. American Greed came on the TV and Jason Derek Brown’s face popped on the television.”

He concluded, “I was just immediately brought back like, ‘Wait a second. That’s the guy from 14 years (ago)?’ I just remembered him, and I was like ‘He’s still missing? What happened here?.'” After that, Gentile went down the rabbit hole and began to research. The director sat down with FilmInk Magazine in January 2023, where he got asked about his process of finding information about Jason Derek Brown for his screenplay. He revealed, “I had a long and extensive research process. There was a lot of information on this case – since it was pretty well publicized here in the States.”

He added, “Jason’s story was covered on Dateline, American Greed, America’s Most Wanted, and many news outlets. Jason Derek Brown also gave me (and my collaborators) a gold mine — in that he documented himself and his life pretty well. He took many photographs of himself flaunting his toys, as well as videos of himself partying on boats and living his ideal life (some of which we recreate in the movie).” Gentile added, “I conducted interviews with people who knew Jason, and I also traveled to the crime scene in Phoenix.”

“I visited the places where Jason lived in Utah, Arizona, and California to get a further sense of where he came from. One of my filmmaking idols is Michael Mann, and I love what he says about doing as much research on your subject as you can so that when you go to make your film you can have full immersion in the subject. Sharing my research with my creative team helped a lot when we went to prepare the movie,” Gentile shared. In conclusion, we can say that Matthew Gentile got inspired by the true story of Jason Derek Brown and crafted an authentic and true-to-life screenplay based on the criminal’s life and his crimes that led the FBI to chase him to bring him to justice.

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