There is a certain type of film that annoys the piss out of me….boring films.
'Hollywoodland' I remembered finding tolerable and actually enjoying though it was long as hell and I can barely remember it now and recently 'J. Edgar', Warner Brothers cuddle monkey for best picture drug on and on and on as if every little detail they found in their research of this man had to appear in the film and slowly just to make sure the audience got it. . . .but that's not the film I'm reviewing.
About a year ago I saw a film titled "The American" with George Clooney with my lovely friend Tiffany. 1 1/2 hours later Tiffany was sound asleep and I was glued to the film waiting desperately for something to happen.
"The American" with George Clooney, directed by Anton Corbin (director of the amazing film 'Control' about Ian Curtis of Joy Division *Control) is a well acted, well shot, and overall piss poorly paced film.
But honestly I'd rather watch "The American" that a film like J. Edgar, because Italy is prettier to look at than desaturation st. and an annoyingly grading voice over - - - regardless my impressions a year later of one of the most hypnotically boring films I've ever seen are that Tiffany is kind of cute when she's asleep…I mean….ehem.
"The American" was marketed as the next 'Bourne Identity' with George Clooney. But the truth is it's a character study of an old spy on one of his last jobs and it takes its sweet ass time. Apparently I think the director was trying to savor something or capture something that wasn't really there. Capturing a moment in time is what film is about but I think he missed that it doesn't have to be slow for an audience to remember it.
I believe Roger Ebert described it to like an older samurai film…and I guess from the small handful of those I've seen it makes since. Long quiet scenes of him sharpening his sword in an all too familiar ritualistic fashion would be similar to a scene where George Clooney literally builds a silencer for a gun practically from scratch in real time. (One of the more interesting scenes in the film I might add.)
The film opens with an assassination of apparently a spy in George Clooney's midst who he's been with he has to kill. And then cuts to him going out to his assignment to Italy. Which transitions from a beautiful shot of him driving through a tunnel. And the music pulses well and I thought…hey this film is pretty good….
And then he reaches Italy.
He checks into a crappy hotel with a coffee bar across the street (I know because there is a scene where he orders coffee in real time).
George's character is a man of simple pleasures…his work and hookers…a typical brooding loner male character in fiction. But not without it's merits as much as I'll say the film is boring and barely anything happens George's performance as well as the other actors aren't bad and the cinematography is gorgeous (In the since of a perfume still photo ad in a magazine) and I thought worthy of a little golden man statue at least for making this boring film worthy of keeping my eyes open.
George is an old spy on a last job who occasionally talks with a local priest about the meaning of life and such odd stuff and receives instructions through a pay phone (which we later gather is a boss setting him up on one last job)
During his work preparing for one last assassination he trains his new home built gun with silencer in the woods with a woman he falls for who if I remember correctly is another spy. Maybe sent by his boss. I can't remember.
Sometime during the middle of the film another assassin appears and attempts to kill George in a rather anticlimactic but rather action packed chase and shootout sequence in the tiny, tiny streets of the italian villa George is living in...a good sequence but too shadowy, short, and chaotic.
George has a hooker he constantly goes to who we get the feeling likes him more than he does her; for him it's just ritual and a way to stave off loneliness and boredom.
George's beautiful woman partner…whose purpose I can't remember.
George's boss and the priest he encounters (whom as I remember gives him vague platitudes about life and such.)
After preparing for this final assassination job…George during the climax is finally going to do it and during that he's double crossed (best to my memory) and assassinated by either his boss or that beautiful woman he was with. (I can't remember) Then after he dies a butterfly fly out after him…
; fade to white.
This ending could have been memorable and justified if it was intense and explosive, but indeed it was not.
I didn't re-watch "The American" to write this review, it's really just in my memory from a year ago so it might be completely inaccurate and encouraged to write from my viewing J. Edgar and being reminded of this genre of slow films that probably shouldn't be slow. Ill disciplined.
But I must say I think these films believe that because they are long that they are epics in the since of . . . "Lawrence of Arabia", "Dr. Zhivago", "The Last Emperor" and that because those films are classics and remembered that if they have that same discipline of slowness that they will be remembered as great epic classics as well…is FALSE! Reason #1 is scale. These films are epics because they are telling epic stories and reason #2 is purpose . . . these films are purposely designed to be paced that way they aren't paced slowly for the lack of understanding of why a scene should be long, slow or fast at all.
Because your films are long does not make you an epic. A film's pacing needs to be intrinsic to the type of film it is and not needs to be added because the director was afraid to cut any scenes or worse because the director believes that making scenes long and tedious will make them better.
Subtlety in the mists of action films and fast paced films is nuanced and resonates and allows you to see layers on multiple viewings…subtlety in slow brooding films is obvious because no matter how subtle you are it's easier to catch something quick, when nothing else is happening.
I would have enjoyed this film more had I known what it was…it is not horrible. Just watch it realizing what it's going to be.
I also realize that their must have been something I missed because at the end of this movie I wondered the purpose of the butterfly, a meditation on life...I'm not sure. I'm not sure I even remember why he had to die. This is more of rant than a review cause I didn't really want to sit through this film again just for the purpose or remembering it. But I have a feeling in the future I'll watch it on a day I have nothing better to do and I might enjoy it more.
George's character has a lot of similarities to Ryan Gosling's character in 'Drive' he's quiet, brooding, and has a specialty. But the craft of filmmaking around these characters makes their entire feeling different. Had "The American" been directed differently I think the film would have been praised, there is definitely enough talent involved but I believe a quieter more internal film is what Corbijn wanted anyways. 'Hugo' is a quiet film that takes place in a train station with a small handful of characters that are quiet and basically human...but the advertisement makes it seem like a great adventure. This film like many others was just another lie trying to get asses into seats and with the right point of view might have fared better.