5-Word 365 #037 – The American

I’ve been looking forward to watching this film for quite a while now. It’s been worth the wait.

The American

Clooney, guns, and naked ladies.

This movie really does have something for everybody.

George Clooney plays Jack, a man seeking redemption for past misdeeds in a small Italian town. Jack makes guns to order for a shadowy cabal represented by Pavel, his contact. As well as making the weapons, Jack is well-versed in using them too, and when his time in Sweden ends very suddenly and very badly in a shocking prologue scene, Jack has to lie low in Castel del Monte. It is here in this small mountain town where the armour he has put up around himself starts to crack, firstly due to his burgeoning friendship with the town’s priest, and secondly because of the woman he begins to fall for. When he takes on one final job for Pavel, the violence he is trying to escape comes back to haunt him.

The American is only former photographer Anton Corbijn’s second feature as director, after his Ian Curtis biopic Control, but the years spent in his previous career have made him a superb visual storyteller. To say the dialogue in this film is sparse is to redefine the meaning of the word. Entire scenes play out with nary a word spoken. Corbijn’s strength, and that of his actors, is in making you understand the feelings and motivations of these people without having to rely on words. In the hands of another crew, this film would likely be interminably dull.

Why is there always one screw left over?

Jack is Clooney’s most stripped-back performance since the astronaut Chris Kelvin in Solaris. In recent years he has been leaving behind the head-tilts and twinkly eyes that made him a star in the first place, but in this flick, Dr Doug Ross seems like a lifetime away. Violante Placido is heart-stoppingly beautiful as Clara, the local prostitute Jack eventually falls for. She’s worldly when under the red light bulb, but has a sweetness to her in all her other scenes. One in particular stands out; oddly enough, it’s one of the few scenes in which she’s fully clothed throughout. This sequence – in which Clara is asking Jack if she can see him outside their current financial arrangement while out showing her friend around the town – is a beautiful thing. With fairly basic dialogue Clooney and Placido both show all the hope and fear and confusion that happens when you ask someone that you really like out on a date, made even more anxious by the fact that these two already have the relationship that they do, on top of which it seems as if Clara’s friend Anna is in the dark about Clara’s profession and therefore the exact nature of her and Jack’s acquaintance. Jack initially thinks Clara is asking him to come to the brothel as a customer, and the flash of hurt in her eyes is so believable you almost want to reach in the screen and hug her.

Here's one more reason to hate George Clooney

Corbijn has admitted that he sees The American as a western. Just in case the audience don’t catch on to this, he places a television in one scene, with Once Upon a Time in the West showing. The film does echo a lot of the spirit of that genre, the Spaghetti variety in particular, but with subtlety. The film never seems like a pastiche or a gimmick. It’s also nice to see Clooney get the chance to show off his Italian on screen, after all that time spent at Lake Como. If you come to this looking for Danny Ocean kicking back in Italy, just keep walking. Your kind aren’t welcome here. On the other hand, if the idea of Shane in the Abbruzo mountains with a suit and a Walther tickles your fancy, then my friend, you can take a seat.

On an unrelated side note, a friend of mine at the office lent me her copy of Miike’s Ichi The Killer today. I think I’ll save that for next Sunday, what do you lot reckon?

5-Word 365 #028 – The Mechanic (2011)

Well shit, from one three-hundred-and-sixty-sixth of the way through this, I am now one thirteenth. Time for a beer.

 

Okay, I’m back. Let’s do this.

The Mechanic (2011)

Much less gay than Winner’s

Now there are two ways we can talk about this flick: as its own entity, or as a remake of Michael Winner’s 1972 release. I’m going to take a look at both by the end of this.

I fricking love this poster, by the way.

 

The plot is basically the same as the original: Arthur Bishop is a hitman for a shadowy organisation who is given the job of taking out his boss and old friend Harry. Harry’s son, Steve, is a bit of a psychopath, and wants revenge on whoever killed his dad. Arthur starts training Steve to be a killer. Arthur and Steve fall out at the end. Around that, Lewis John Carlino has made a few key changes to the story from his original book and 40-year-old screenplay. Credited this time alongside Richard Wenk, Carlino has removed almost all subtext and some of the important character beats from the first filmed version. Gone is the subtle almost-flirting between Steve and Arthur as the younger man tries to get the older to admit to what he does for a living. Gone is Arthur’s taste for fine wine (which turned from a character quirk to a major plot point by the end of the story). Gone is the most disturbing – and revealing – sequence of the film, where Steve’s girlfriend has slit her wrists and the two men stand around idly chatting and eating a sandwich as they wait for her to die. In their place we get Steve walking up to Arthur in the street and saying “I know what you do, my dad told me everything”. Good for story economy, bad for story.

The setting has been shifted from Los Angeles to New Orleans as well. I think this change works in the movies favour though. New Orleans has humidity. There’s a sweatiness to it that gives the story of these two hitmen an appropriate sheen of grime that was lacking 40 years ago. Another improvement is the removal of the occasional goofy humour that as a total mood-killer the first time around.

Jason Statham acquits himself well as Arthur. He doesn’t try to copy Bronson (who could?), instead Arthur is cut from the same cloth as Frank “The Transporter” Martin, except this time he kills people instead of driving their stuff around. The man sticks to what he does best: scowling, walking around menacingly, jumping off shit. His Arthur is also a much more likable character than Russell Brand’s.

I remember knowing Ben Foster only from Freaks and Geeks and Get Over It. Since then, he took a complete side-step and now seems to have cornered the market in angry young psychos. 1972 Steve was a bit sleazy and a bit creepy. 2011 Steve is fully believable as someone with the capacity to kill without a concern. He’s a much more layered character this time. You can see his grief at his father’s death in his eyes, as well as the bubbling rage that is tempered and focused by his time with Arthur. Jan-Michael Vincent was never the most subtle of actors but he played to his strengths by making Steve basically a blank slate. Not so this time.

I doubt Stringfellow could have got that hat on over his bouffant.

This flick is much more action-heave than its predecessor, all ably handled by Simon West (Con Air). There are a few thrilling shootouts on display, not least of which is the scene where Steve takes out a whole team of bad guys holding him on the couch at gunpoint without breaking a sweat, thanks to Arthur’s pre-stashed emergency semi-auto. I wasn’t overly enamoured with the digital blood sprays however. Things like that work in cartoony action movies like Drive Angry, but in this supposedly more grounded story it seems like overkill, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Overall, I liked it. With the gap in years, combined with all the other differences, you can’t objectively measure the two films as versions of the same story. As a singular thing, the 2011 Mechanic is a good film. It has convincing performances, solid action and good characterisation. It is lacking a bit in subtext, and there are one or two glaring plot holes, but nothing that would be a deal breaker. If you haven’t seen it already, give it a spin.

On an interesting side note, today is the first anniversary of the flick’s UK release. In the CCTV footage seen at the end, the date stamp in the corner shows that same date: 28 Jan 11. Things like that just tickle me.

5-Word 365 #014 – The Hit List

Jeez, has it been two weeks already? I am now one twenty-sixth of the way through this daft plan. I’m feeling good about finishing, but a little encouragement goes a long way. I’m just saying. Anyway, let’s get on with it.

The Hit List

Don’t get drunk with strangers.

That’s the lesson here today, kids. When you catch your wife with your friend and go off to drown your sorrows be careful who you get chatting to, as they might be a government assassin who persuades you to make a list of the five people you most want dead…

Thus begins the worst 36 hours(ish) of Allan Campbell’s life. He’s already been passed over for a promotion he was all but promised; add in the whole wife/friend snafu and he’s not in the best mental place. He meets a man named Jonas Arbor at the bar he ends up at and they get talking. From what Jonas says, Allan assumes he’s a therapist of some sort. Even after Jonas tells him that he’s a professional killer, he thinks Jonas is joking around. Allan thinks that making the list is just some kind of catharsis, but Jonas is deadly serious (I really am very sorry, but I just couldn’t let that one go). When Allan gets back from the mens’ room Jonas and the list have vanished. Soon after, people start turning up dead.

This is a solid little straight-to-DVD thriller with Cole “son of Wings” Hauser as Allan and Cuba “son of Cuba” Gooding, Jr. as Jonas.  I admit I haven’t been keeping up with Cuba’s recent career in this niche but he does the terminally-ill badass quite convincingly here. Don’t worry, I’m not giving away any spoilers. The character is set up to be on his way out from the very first shot. Hauser also does a good job as the guy whose entire life has gone to shit all at once. The movie also features a very extravagant title sequence, all flying concentric circles and spirals of dancing Kalashnikovs (it’s actually quite a bit cooler than I make it sound). A bit Bondesque, really.

How To Be A Bad-Ass Killer, by Cuba Gooding, Jr. Chapter 1: Add beard, subtract shirt. Get a little sweaty.

There isn’t really anything new on display here unfortunately. The film it most reminded me of is Collateral. You’ve got the ruthless assassin, the ordinary guy caught up in it, five people to kill with Ordinary Guy’s love interest as the last name on the list… Shit, Cuba’s even wearing the same grey suit as his old buddy Tom. There are worse people to rip off than Michael Mann though. The police station climax could almost be a direct lift from The Terminator as well, and the number of allegedly well-trained police officers this supposedly dying man leaves in his wake does stretch credibility just a tad.

"We're in the car now Cuba. Put your damn shirt back on."

If you’re looking for a Friday night rental and you don’t mind a few derivative story beats, you could do a lot worse than The Hit List. If a good film is an absence of anything bad, then this is a good film. I know that seems like a very back-handed compliment, but I like did quite like this. It was not a waste of my afternoon. Will Kaufman is a good technical film director. Unlike some of the young guys coming up in the indies*, he understands the geography of a scene and knows where to put the camera so that you never feel lost, in terms of who is where and who is doing what. He’s not a show-off. On the strength of this, I’m quite tempted to check out his earlier flick, Saints and Sinners. If it’s any good, I’ll let you know.

*I’m looking at you, Rufus Chaffee. I gave Divine Intervention two minutes and that was two minutes too damn long.