Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Review: The American

"Don't make any friends Jack. You used to know that. . ."

Jack is not a people person. We get austere. We get calculating. We get a man of few words, but many thoughts. That much is clear with every shot we get of his face in this terrific film.

Director Anton Corbijn, comes from photography, and we get the sense he is very good at what he does with this beautifully shot film. The characters are only but a tiny part in many of his frames, he fills them wonderfully with the help of his cinematographer and collaborator from Control, Martin Ruhe. He fills his set-ups with Italian mountains, or Italian flowers and Italian villas, or Italian people, or rich white Swedish snow. They are also filled with love and pain, with remorse and grief, with anger and violence. Or with Violante Placido's boobs. It was awesome.

This man, Jack (who goes by Edward as a cover), is filled with many demons. He obviously hates what he does, but does it because his hands and his body command him. He is naturally born with "the hands of a craftsman" and he embraces this fact to makes works of art. A deadly art.

Jack, after nearly escaping from the snow in Sweden, calls his Belgian handler, Pavel (Johan Leysen), and reroutes to the Italian countryside. He is handed keys to a Fiat, and a bag with a cell phone and charger. He takes the keys, drives the car, tosses the bag and it's contents out the window and over a bridge. He claims, he's "not good with machines". He arrives at his destination, a mountain village in Abruzzo, only to not exactly feel as comfortable as he would like to. So he off's to better suited areas, the scenic Castel del Monte. There he meets Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and they drink wine one day, and eat food together another night. Discussing the morality of man, and the salvation of seeking God. Jack tells the priest, "Everything I've done I had good cause to do." Though it doesn't roll off his tongue with conviction. He feels otherwise so deeply it's practically coming out his pours. And he continues to hate himself for it.

He tells Pavel, this is his last job. Which is making a rifle for Mathilde (I'd like to playfully think it's Natalie Portman, grown up from The Professional). She asks for it, complete with a magnificent scope and a custom suppressor, for an unnamed target's assassination. She arrives by train and he marks her by her expensive clothes, by her large black sunglasses, by her newspaper folded in between her arms. After a detailed discussion they have at adjacent tables during the day at a cafe outside, they agree that not only the weapon would have a sound suppressor and the magazine capacity of a submachine gun, but that it would also be compact enough to fit in a briefcase after being dismantled.

This is where I'll leave you with the plot. Oh yeah, he goes to the local house-o-whores and meets Clara, takes a liking to her, and continues to patronize her, until they eventually turn their money-meetings into actual dates. 

You have to give him credit, I admire Jack and his strict adherence to his code of conduct: staying detached, remaining in solitude. Jack does his work alone. Assembles his rifles and makes the intricate pieces with his tools alone. Does his stretches, push-ups and military-presses (via the doorway) alone. Eats alone. Drinks coffee during the day and something out of a small glass at a bar at night, alone. Did I mention this man is a loner?  Though he is much more, and being alone helps him achieve the rank of master. Jack is a master of his craft, of killing, of defending, of building his weapons and then using them even better than he built them. He is an assassin. He is a ninja. He is a samurai. He is a warrior with the dedication and concentration of a monk. This is where Clooney saw the attraction to the role, and so did Corbijn (along with shooting on location in one of the most cinematic and beautiful countries on the planet).

He is loyal to himself, to his butterfly tattoo--butterfly's are beautiful and free to roam, I have a small theory he tells himself he'll never be either of those things and it makes him sad. So he copes by falling asleep reading about them, and always stopping to appreciate them. He is loyal to his job and the mission, to his master. Not unlike a solider or a warrior. A knight, a ninja. . . Or, not a samurai, his contract, he is on the roam. This fact nearly makes him a ronin. He is Bushido. Jack sees it as his essence of being. His love of the end result of his work might be starting to curdle, his milk has been out of the fridge too long I fear, but he fiends for his day-to-day with his job duties. What can he do? Retire and read magazines all day? Using as few words as he can in the real world 24/7?

But he can try to love.

Enter Clara (Placido). Few people can get close enough to Jack, he claims none do. Pavel tells him early on, "Don't make any friends Jack. You used to know that. . ." He is in deed slipping in his emotional guard required for the job.

He is man of flesh and blood, he is a human. And no matter how dedicated he is to his life of singularity, he still, needs. It's not even a want anymore. Clara starts out as something he likes to do (double entandre) at first. Her touch with supple, professional hands. Her voice wrapped in Italian silk. Her deep set eyes and flowing brunette hair. Hookers with class, the expensive ones, understand how to make a customer feel welcomed, and warm. Feel very much appreciated. A few lines from a certain poem come to mind:
"Her big eyes entice
   Her kiss is concise
   This woman will make you think twice
   That just one night, will never suffice. . ."
This is something he feels, but then requires from Clara. He reciprocates this to her, maybe by accident. I feel it is a subconscious decision. This is why she evolves into something he loves to love, and she does nothing but return those sentiments. Returns them with kisses, hugs, or just her wonderful eyes, big, round and tractor beamish in the way they can can control you without your own body telling you what to do.

Father Benedetto almost immediately sees the strife inside Jack/Edward. And try as he might to help, he gets nothing in return. But he leaves him with gems, things to think about during their specific, yet wandering, conversations. He tells him, "You cannot doubt the existence of Hell. You live in it. It is a place without love."  That sticks with him, it hits it's mark.

Some of the dialogue sometimes springs to mind a quote from The Rog. (Do I really have to put Ebert in parenthesis?) He said:
"Of the many imprisonments possible in our world, one of the worst must be to be inarticulate - to be unable to tell another person what you really feel."
Jack is not very good with his mouth, but he'll you what's going on with him as quickly as possible. You'd almost think he's got a canker sore, or just loves chewing that gum of his too much to break his mouth apart. 

The 70's would be proud of this one, even some Golden Age films too. This isn't exactly Film Noir, but we get some nice character work, where everybody has flaws, scars, they're not perfect, and they don't exactly care either. Things happen in this that remind of the driven films from the 70's, the man running from another. On the chase, being chased, having one or two other men to trust, and finding a woman along the way. All the while being lost in a world with morality scattered, up for grabs if you'd like to try it out. And now we're back to Noir. We chase through twists and turns in the corridors of the Italian village and it's hallways, or the dark back roads of its streets and outer circles.

But I mean, c'mon guys, an American spy in Europe with a deadly tail he can't track and an Italian woman there for company? That's all you need right there to have a good time.

I've been waiting since last September, to see this damned thing. Then we got something cool in November, and of course April and May got me excited too. So needless to I've been waiting to see this one, budding with anticipation. And ya know what? Didn't disappoint, it even slipped past my pre-set expectations and rose my entertainment levels to new heights.

This film requires patience to be fully understood, I've said that before about films, particularly art-house. It's not a please-all or a money maker. It's for artists of film. This is like the DragonForce of film. It's for film lovers, actors, directors, composers (Herbert Grönemeyer's score is really something in this, very appropriate), and certainly cinematographers. As powerfully unequivocal as the performances are, the carefully chosen actors, so is the skill it took to pull off a film of this caliber.

Make no mistake, this is wonderfully made with gorgeous scenery, displays of immense talent in it's performers, and soft yet unforgivably harsh and slow-burning direction. For Jack is a precise man, a particular man. Clara is an imposing beauty with a personality to compliment that like a good wine with food. Mathilde is concrete with a smile she knows how to use. And Benedetto is gentle but worrisome. These characters are all fragile in their own way, and must be handled with care. I was most grateful to see a director that understood that much.

And did so much more.

A most obliged and gratified Munki out.

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