Warning: Major spoilers ahead for Last Days Of American Crime.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name, the film looks at yes, the last days of American crime. In response to terrorism and widespread crime, the U.S. government has created the API signal, or the American Peace Initiative. While it’s not quite the same as sending the National Guard and riot cops out to peaceful protests, the film does paint the U.S. as a militarised police state in which law enforcement gets a free pass to “enforce” law and order however they see fit, even if that includes violence.
If, however, you still forged on with the film despite the jarring similarities to the conversations and events happening in the real world, you may need a few pieces of this complicated story cleared up for you.
Here’s what we know.
How Does The API Signal Work?
It "acts as a synaptic blocker, making it impossible for anyone to perform an act they know to be unlawful." Basically, the movie doesn't explain the science behind it — just the effects.
When we first meet Bricke, a fearless bank robber, we see that America is a police state rampant with crime. This signal is the government's way of setting the country on the right course... by controlling its citizens every thought. The government had been working on the API, a high pitched wale that affects the nervous system, in secret for years. Now they have decided to unleash it on the country.
Last Days Of American Crime counts down to when the signal will be turned on, when it will "influence criminal activity on a national scale," according to a local newscaster. The idea is that it should end crime all together. As you can imagine, this show of governmental force divides the nation, and we see pro-API nationalists and protestors fighting in the street.
What’s worse is that the government tested the API on actual people — early in the film Kevin Cash (Michael Pitt) tells Bricke that his brother died because of the API signal, which the government claimed was an amnesty program for criminals to sell back their stolen goods.
So yes, the API is a way to make America safe again, but it’s also civilian mind control. Law enforcement is being implanted with a device that will spare them from the effects of the API signal. The signal will not stop them from being able to use deadly force against anyone they choose.
Why Does The API Signal Kill People?
As we learn, despite the signal being nearly a hundred percent effective, it's difficult to calibrate. People who are hit with the signal undergo traumatic brain injury and the personal fortitude needed to jam the signal is "not survivable." Bricke's revenge mission is basically a death sentence.
Still, Bricke is willing to die for the cause — or, more accurately, for Shelby (Anna Brewster). It's why he puts in place his own amnesty deal to sell back the money he steals for protection. But Shelby is working with the FBI to give Cash up so that her little sister can get safe passage to Canada.
What Happens To The API Signal In The End?
After enough double crossing to keep your head spinning, Shelby ends up in the API tower minutes before the signal is set to go off. Bricke gives the counterfeit money to the FBI in exchange for real money to get him in the building.
Seconds before the API signal will go off, Shelby hacks into the mainframe, but she can't stop it in time. Cash and Bricke struggle to keep it together until suddenly, she disrupts the local signal. The high pitched ringing stops and they blow their way out of the vault, taking billions of dollars with them. The cops have turned in their guns, all except William Sawyer (Sharlto Copley), who takes Shelby in.
When the signal reactivates we realize Cash is immune to it. Bricke has been set up. See, Cash has found a nihilistic form of clarity in which nothing means anything to him anymore, rendering the signal useless on him. He doesn't care about right and wrong so the signal can't stop him from committing crimes. In fact, killing Bricke's brother got him out of jail because he was the victim of cruel and unusual punishment that he is now invoking on Bricke, who still has a moral compass.
How Does Bricke Bypass The API Signal?
Cash's double cross backfired on him. Shelby had set him up and the FBI takes him out. Unfortunately, they also plan to rebuke their deal with Shelby. As the FBI go to find her, Bricke takes the red pills of death and is suddenly able to ignore the signal and shoot the feds.. Bricke has found a work around, too, though it’s admittedly not all that scientific.
Bricke manages to stay alive long enough to drive the truck full of money into the cops just before they shoot Shelby to death. The bridge to Canada is closed, but Bricke isn't much of a rule follower. Shots fire but he just keeps driving until America is behind him. In the end, he does die for Shelby, who walks off without the money. She is no richer than she was before, but she is now the sole survivor of the last crime in American history.