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Review: The American

September 13, 2010 1 comment

The American

George Clooney’s latest star vehicle The American directed by Anton Corbijn, serves as a fitting end to the disappointing 2010 summer movie season. Despite a promising approach, it is hamstrung by overused and trite story elements that blend into a technically competent yet hollow product.

Clooney stars as Jack, a particularly dour assassin forced to go into hiding after his cover is blown during a previous mission. He is able to get in touch with his superior, Pavel (Johan Leysen) who sets him up in a small village in the classically cinematic Abruzzo region of Italy, so he can work on a secondary assignment until the heat dies down. Both men have an understanding that this will be Jack’s last job, as he is troubled by both the nature of his work and the lack of trust implicit in it. In his downtime blending into the scenery, he makes the acquaintance of the local priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and frequents a brothel focusing his attention on the beautiful Clara (Violante Placido).

 

Jack is assigned to build a specially made weapon for the mysterious Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). The two are not that dissimilar with their somber, business-like demeanor and skilled detachment to their work. The scenes of Clooney’s craftsmanship in assembling the weapon for Mathilde are the strongest in the film and are well served; as it turns out he may not be as safe and secluded as he had hoped. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that Jack might not be the only one still harboring a secret.

 

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because these are the same hackneyed plot points inserted into countless other entries in the genre. This could be overlooked if there were some degree of inventiveness in how these well-worn beats are handled, but that is not the case here. The story unfolds almost wholly as you would expect and the climax is muted by predictability. The subplot with Father Benedetto is entirely superfluous and distracting at best even in the moment. Jack’s relationships with Clara and Mathilde are too stilted and uneven to earn the place they go to in the final act, and without them the film’s payoff is negligible.

 

Ultimately, The American’s greatest failure is its deliberately impenetrable star. At the end of the film you know just as much about Jack as you did in the beginning, and care about him even less. Ambiguity and restraint are storytelling devices that too often go unused, but in a project that is so dependent on its lead, the audience needs a reason to commit. By stubbornly withholding anything but the barest of emotion, the story is resigned to simplifying too familiar tropes to get the audience to connect. Clooney does a solid job of managing to keep you curious, if not fully invested; but the lack of worthy supporting characters or a more meaningful story holds back any chance he had of trying to carry this film. Read more…

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Fireside Chats: Cinemablend’s Eric Eisenberg Part 2

May 21, 2010 Leave a comment

We pick up with Cinemablend’s Eric Eisenberg for a summer movie blowout. Part 1 is here.
Note: There are very minor spoilers for Iron Man 2 discussed, if you haven’t seen that yet feel free to skip down to the picture of Terrence Howard.


TFTB
: Before we jump into this summer’s slate of blockbusters, I want to spend a minute on Iron Man 2 and Robin Hood for anyone who hasn’t seen those yet. I’ll start with Robin Hood actually. Why would anyone decide that making a prequel that excludes all the good stuff is at all interesting? I’m truly at a loss.

Eric: The tragedy of it is that it appears to be an attempt at creativity that just got out of hand. The Robin Hood story has been told a thousand times and I understand Ridley Scott not wanting to tell it again, but it doesn’t work if you make it as slow as molasses.

TFTB: I was so much more interested when this story was Nottingham and they were focusing on the Sheriff’s perspective. It’s the same type of ego-driven star rewrites that plagued Terminator: Salvation. Still, I suppose they do deserve some points for scope of vision if not execution.

Eric: Agreed, particularly with Russell Crowe in both roles. It would be interesting to map a timeline of where that movie went wrong. I just hope it doesn’t discourage studios or other writers to be creative. There is just way too much “same” in movies these days. I still hold the Disney movie in high regard though.

TFTB: Speaking of, what is your opinion on Iron Man 2, and particularly the criticisms that it sacrificed story in favor of setting up its larger Avengers storyline.

Eric: It’s weird to say, but I feel as though I have a bias in favor of the Avengers stuff. Most people went to go see Iron Man 2 to see just that: more Iron Man, but I went in to watch it as a bridge to the bigger picture and I think most comic fans/regular Marvel movie-goers are doing the same thing. I can totally understand the criticism.

TFTB: I think that’s the biggest problem. If you’re selling it as Tony Stark: Bigger, Badder and Uncut, then that’s what people want to see. From a personal level, I was able to appreciate a lot of the subtler touches they put in expanding the film’s larger universe, but as a stand-alone film the product that was on screen did suffer from those issues, particularly in the first half.

Eric: What they are doing is unprecedented in film, and it needs to be done. I also don’t think that the series has done itself any favors by sticking the fun stuff at the end of the credits. There were plenty of people I talked to in the theater that still had no idea that Samuel L. Jackson was in the first movie, so when he showed up, I would bet that thousands of people went “huh?”. This includes people who own the film on DVD mind you, but there really is no remedy for that unless they start putting it in the promotional materials.

TFTB: It’s just interesting that these films have done so much towards making comic books accessible to a larger public, but at the same time, the divisions in some ways are stronger than ever.

Eric: Exactly. Marvel knows its key audience, but doesn’t seem to know the people it needs to reach out to. Iron Man 2 is a lot more enjoyable if you are willing to put the time in. There’s only so many times that I can explain what a Skrull is.

TFTB: So that explains why War Machine looked different in this one!

Eric: Skrulls?

TFTB: Got to be.

Eric: Congrats, you just lost a huge chunk of your audience.

TFTB: Well that seemed to be more of a problem for Kick-Ass.

Eric: I still don’t understand what happened with Kick-Ass, and I don’t think I ever will.

TFTB: Just looking at this summer, there seem to be a lot of hit or miss projects this year.

Eric: This may put you off, but I think I have to put Inception in that category. I love Christopher Nolan’s films to death, but is everyone going to get that movie?

TFTB: I can’t disagree because I still couldn’t tell you what that movie is about, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to after it’s over, but I have faith in Nolan that it will be a great film even if it doesn’t live up to expectations financially.

Eric: And that comes even after the trailer that supposedly told us what it is about. They just need to put the words “dark” and “knight” in each tv trailer about 70 times  then maybe he can get people hooked.

TFTB: You mean like The Karate Kid? They’re just short of dragging Ralph Macchio out to China and letting him get kicked in the face by Jaden Smith.

Eric: I just hate the idea of Jackie Chan getting old; and I want a Billy Zabka cameo.

TFTB: That’s a must, that and cheesy 80s montage music.

Eric: That’s actually a nice segue into my true feelings about the film. You know an 80s movie when you see it, and The Karate Kid is most certainly an 80s movie, and that is a huge part of its charm. I don’t get any charm out of the new movie.

TFTB: And what about The A-Team? Read more…