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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Cyrus

Directed by: Jay & Mark Duplass

Produced by:
Michael Costigan
Tony Scott
Ridley Scott

Written by: Jay & Mark Duplass

Starring:
John C. Reilly
Jonah Hill
Marisa Tomei
Catherine Keener
Matt Walsh

Music by: Michael Andrews

Cinematography by: Jas Shelton

Editing by: Jay Dueby

Studio: Scott Free Productions

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Release date(s):
January 23, 2010 (Sundance Premiere)
June 18, 2010 (United States)
September 10, 2010 (United Kingdom)

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $7 million

Gross revenue: $9, 515, 592

Christmas has been and gone. Another fucking year over and done with is the hallmark of this seasonal event for yours truly. 'Tis the season to be jolly:' why not be jolly the whole year round, instead of jinxing those of us who don't dig this forced feeling of festivity? Well, can't complain overly, I am now at long last an owner of a seventh-generation games console (a PlayStation 3 being my 'poster boy' gift this year). Also, I started the month by getting my first phone in eight years, so I'm gradually becoming a man of this consumer world again. Doesn't stop me ranting on about it, but why the fuck did I start ranting on this? Not 'why', because it is obvious I just need some filler/starting material, but 'this', as in arriving at the departure lounge on a completely different topic matter. You can answer, because your guess is as good as mine.

Moving swiftly (and I mean swiftly) on, lets get down with our film topic of the hour Cyrus. Now, I must say that from the off I was really looking forward to this film. I like a lot of the Judd Apatow-esque comedies that have been condemned by many critics as destroying comedy, however, there are most too many, The Hangover being the prime example (not looking forward to the sequel – what the fuck do you write about?). Any comedy that looks like it pushes buttons, focuses on personal relationships or has good ideas is always welcome in my book, especially when many of the films I see in a year are bad comedies. Also, for anyone who does decide to see the film, marketing has once again ballsed up. The trailer takes all of the 'funny', as in more extravagant scenes from the film, and is by no means representative of the work.

John (John C. Reilly) has been seven years divorced from his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener), who is now engaged to be re-married to Tim (Matt Walsh). Still having a good relationship with John, Jamie attempts to get John out of his lonely existence, having him come to a party to which she has been invited. Reluctantly, John attends and meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), a woman of similar personality to John's true self, who thinks that he has found the woman of his dreams. Upon going to her house one day, he finds out that she has a grown son Cyrus (Jonah Hill), who does not appreciate the intrusion into the household. As such, he both intentionally and unintentionally interferes with the relationship between John and Molly.

To start with what is good about Cyrus, we must talk first of the acting. For a film with this story and of this nature, it is appropriate that naturalistic acting be employed. John C. Reilly gives a believable performance as John. His depressive acting is not one of the ridiculous portrayals that you get with some comedic actors 'doing depressed.' Reilly approaches his character with genuine feeling and respect. Therefore, the need and longing is established, and John (character) is all the more endearing to the audience as a result. Also, Marisa Tomei is a fabulous actress who already knows how to act, so we have no bother here. Although she plays second fiddle very much to the tension between Reilly and Hill's characters, Tomei does a good job of playing the different roles of mother and lover torn between where her loyalties lie. However, the best performance of the film is that of Jonah Hill as Cyrus. Hill is best remembered by the mainstream for his role as the foul-mouthed Seth in Superbad. His role in Cyrus (as Cyrus) is the other end of the comedy spectrum. Cyrus is outwardly a mildly eccentric, but nevertheless friendly young man. However, Hill reveals the extent of Cyrus’ protectiveness towards his mother with great understanding. This is the performance that the film centers on, and whether or not it pays off makes or breaks the film. Hill gives a performance that while being very funny, is so full of humanity and understanding that you can't help but sympathise with his character.

Kind words must also be said regarding, well, the words of the film, for it does have some terrific dialogue. The script says 'Jay & Mark Duplass' on the title, but one does wonder how much of the dialogue emerged from their script. Being a ‘Mumblecore’ film, much of the dialogue is improvised by the actors. Nevertheless, the dialogue is great. As a relationship comedy, it is important that no grand theatrics emerge. The lines themselves are interesting and very open to interpretation. This helps create some of the films greater moments, with the actors throwing in the odd glance or intonation as they are speaking the dialogue. In acting terms, these are wise moves, although I doubt that the acting would have been anywhere as successful without such strong words. Importantly, the dialogue is 'real-world' dialogue, so you can imagine people saying them. It gives credibility to the story that might have been denied if the actors had something more ridiculous. Also, thematically I did like the central idea, and the interesting parallel between the relationship of John, Cyrus and Molly and that of Jamie, John and Tim (is John the 'Cyrus' in this relationship?)

The final aspect of the film that is really worth praising is the cinematography and editing. Now, these aspects don't do anything drastic to stand out, but as far as stylistic purposes go, they are handled wisely. As I have mentioned, this is a relationship comedy about real emotions and real people, so the cinematography and editing work in parallel to capture this. Jas Shelton keeps the camera static, often having the camera placed away from the acting. Not only does this give the actors space to work, it also adds a certain voyeuristic element for the audience watching this unfold. It must be said though that this would not work without Jay Dueby making the wise choice as editor to let these shots play out. He could just as easily have gone for a more showy form of editing, but instead works with Shelton to complement the film's naturalistic tone.

Cyrus is a film that has a lot going for it. However, there are problems inherent with the way it is made that deny it from being one of the best comedies of the year. Much of these problems come from writer-directors Jay & Mark Duplass. It is obvious that the two display talent from the work here. Cyrus is a comedy that stands out in the extremes of not just comedy but all genres of films. However, the Duplass' great failure as directors is being unable to give enough of a 'heart' to their film. While the dialogue and the actors do their best, after watching Cyrus I couldn't help but have the same feeling that I got from watching any other industrial-factory produced film. Good intentions there may be, but Cyrus is a movie that while trying bravely does not translate heart well enough to audiences. I wanted to be there for the entire film, but the directors just did not make me want to care enough. It doesn't have to be spelled out or said, but all art gives off messages, and whether or not these messages are translated properly in film is up to the director(s).

I am not scapegoating the Duplass' just to criticise the film, but they really are the reason as to why the film doesn't work. Not only do they fail as directors, but they also fail as screenwriters. Granted, the dialogue is good, but how much of that can be attributed to the Duplass' is anyone’s guess. My main problems involve story, structure and thematic content. The story as a concept is strong, but it is fuddled up along the way. What starts off as an interesting film heads down the line of predictable, nuts-and-bolts things we have seen done before in so many other romantic-comedies. With regards to structure, much of the film is a buildup to a certain 'event', an 'event' that proves to be one of the year's most intense scenes and is handled very well. However, the events that follow this 'event' are so deflated that you simply feel that the Duplass' have run out of ideas and are simply going for broke. As a result, the whole final fifteen minutes disappoints and though good scenes individually, do not fit in with the rest of the film. Finally, though the thematic content is handled well, it is not handled well enough. There is stuff in Cyrus that gives us an impression of what the entire work could have been like. However, the whole relationship dynamic is not pushed far enough. I am not asking for some ridiculousness stuff that would be out of the realm of the real world, but surely the 'overprotective son' stuff could have been pushed further. If wanted a real, razor-edged relationship comedy, why not give Cyrus an Oedipus complex or genetic sexual attraction? They're just the extreme alternatives, but even if the film went down the tonal line that it does, surely more could have been done? Cyrus ultimately feels like a movie that has went from Point A to Point B at furthest.

Cyrus has a lot of problems that emerge, mainly from the work of Jay & Mark Duplass, both as directors and writers. They fail to notice the fact that the film feels like assembly-line moviemaking outside of the central concept, which isn't pushed far enough by any means. As a result, it comes across as a candy-floss laced with the occasional stone, as opposed to razor-blade. However, it is a skillfully acted film, particularly from Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly. Also, all three main actors execute the wonderful dialogue well, the saving grace of the script, if indeed the Duplass' did write these lines. Finally, there is a stylistic consistency, as can be observed by Jas Shelton and Jay Dueby's work in the cinematography and editing departments. While a bit of a failure in terms of ambition, Cyrus is a very admirable failure at that, and remains a good, charming film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Very busy (year-end is approaching, with Oscar deadline being February 27th, so will need to spend at least two/three weeks on my personal year-end awards. Personal choices for films to see would be much appreciated, particularly foreign-language and documentary, good or bad)

P.S. To Jack’s Complete Lack Of Surprise – Still haven’t seen Shutter Island, but I haven’t forgotten and am now properly within my ability to do so, now having a Blu-Ray player in PS3.



Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Clash Of The Titans

Directed by: Louis Leterrier

Produced by:
Basil Iwanyk
Kevin De La Noy
Richard D. Zanuck

Written by:
Lawrence Kasdan
Travis Beacham
Phil Hay
Matt Manfredi

Starring:
Sam Worthington
Gemma Arterton
Mads Mikkelsen
Alexa Davalos
Danny Huston
Pete Postlethwaite
Hans Matheson
Ralph Fiennes
Liam Neeson

Music by: Ramin Djawadi

Cinematography by: Peter Menzies Jr.

Editing by:
Vincent Tabaillon
Martin Walsh

Studio:
Legendary Pictures
The Zanuck Company

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date: April 2, 2010 (United States and United Kingdom)

Running time: 106 minutes

Country:
United Kingdom
United States

Language: English

Budget: $125 million

Gross revenue: $493, 214, 888

Does anyone find diocese schools really overbearing? I went to a Catholic diocese school for seven years, which instead of strengthening my faith was partly responsible for my conversion to agnostic atheism. Invited to return for a GCE (A-Level) certificate ceremony, I thought that I will give them the benefit of the doubt: they only confirmed my paranoia even more! Apparently a priest is too low down the religious hierarchy, and we require a bishop’s presence at the very least. The icing on the cake was of course a nun as our Guest of Honour, who spoke for FIFTY minutes on her unstructured life story, not the topic at hand. You would think Archbishop Desmond Tutu was speaking, but then again he wouldn't be invited, being a Protestant and all. The fools also managed to get my degree in the bi-annual Communique wrong: I am doing Major/Minor in English/Film, not 'Film and Media Studies', a course I don't even think exists. At least we didn't have to listen to our Head Boy make another lame ass speech.

Anyway, post-rant, let's talk Clash Of The Titans. In 1981, the original Clash Of The Titans was released. Today, it has a lasting reputation as a cult fantasy classic, mostly due to the special effects created by stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen. As his last film after a long and successful career (he's not dead, but alive and old at the grand age of ninety), Clash Of The Titans is seen as a milestone in his career. Twenty-nine years later, the film has been remade for today's audiences as a major, big-budget blockbuster.

The basic plot remains the same. Loosely based on the myth of Perseus (Sam Worthington), Clash Of The Titans is given some grounding in a pre-credit sequence describing the defeat of The Titans by their sons Zeus (Liam Neeson), Poseidon (Danny Huston) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Zeus became ruler of the heavens, Poseidon king of the seas, and Hades, after being tricked by Zeus, lord of the Underworld. Zeus, who over time began to be questioned by his creations, created mankind. A millennia later, fisherman Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite) raises a coffin from the sea, finding a child and his deceased mother inside. Adopting the child as his own, Spyros' son Perseus becomes a fisherman like his father, until a fateful battle between the Gods and the soldiers of Argos (I know, funny in today’s context) sees his family killed in the crossfire. Perseus eventually decides to gain revenge, siding with the soldiers of Argos in a race against the Gods, for Hades has threatened to raise the Kraken, and will only be stopped by the sacrifice of Andromeda (Alexa Davalos).

Right, as you can see, there is a lot of exposition to cover, and to be fair, I have missed some spots but I don't want to have to keep filling in gaps. To start with the good about the film, some of the actors need mentioning. If you were to pick someone to play Zeus, you wouldn't be far wrong picking Neeson. Although the character is underdeveloped, Neeson creates a suitable godlike presence. Also, Ralph Fiennes gives another solid role as a villain this year. Having seen him play the less-than-pleasant Mr Kendrick in Cemetery Junction and the even-more-less-than-pleasant Lord Voldemort in the new Harry Potter film, it shows how good an actor he is when he can play so many different versions of the archetypal antagonist. Also, it's great to see Pete Postlethwaite in not one, but two mainstream films this year, even if in this film, it is a small, expository role. Sam Worthington proves himself as a fine actor in the first act of the film, in which his character is a grim, Maximus Decimus Meridius character intent on revenge. He portrays this Perseus very well, with all the torment and heavy baggage weighing him down. After the first act though, he does become a part of the machinery to get the plot moving. The best acting performance in the film period belongs to Mads Mikkelsen. I'm not saying that this is fabulous acting (Valhalla Rising is a better example of his talents), but in playing Draco, leader of the Praetorian Guard, he creates a character that is far more complex than the writers have intended to scribe.

Being a large-scale, action-blockbuster movie with lots of special effects, it is only right that the director on board is the correct choice. It can safely be said that Louis Leterrier fits this project like a glove. I haven't seen the Transporter films, but I liked both Unleashed (which should be called Danny The Dog everywhere!) and The Incredible Hulk, so this is a man who you can trust to direct good action. By the standards of the films that this is clearly trying to replicate in scale (the Transformers series in particular), Leterrier handles the work rather well. Unlike these films, you can actually see what is going on, so there is a plus for the cinematographers. Also, given the ridiculous amount of material that has to be covered in under one hundred minutes, Leterrier does a remarkable job of getting as much as is possible into the one film.

This paragraph here is going to be based upon the action sequences and the various aspects the filmmaking process that bring them to life. Now, in Clash Of The Titans, what sets it apart from the usual run of the mill, dull-as-hell action blockbuster in the vein of Transformers (which has become a blanket term of sorts for me, considering I think the first is on similar level to this, but it helps, because I still refuse to call the sequel by its name), is the execution of these sequences. For starters, the special effects have a greater weight to them: you can feel that despite their fantastical element, they really could exist. The large scorpions, the Medusa and the Kraken in particular all look fantastic. The Kraken is an amazing work of technical brilliance, for which the special effects department should be proud. If you are to compare both Transformers' special effects, no matter how hard the special effects department tries, both Autobots and Decepticons feel like effects. There is no weight to them in the fight sequences. Whenever people get shot in movies like Michael Mann's Heat, you can almost feel the impact of the bullets. Whenever these monsters are onscreen, you do feel their power. The sound department makes invaluable contributions here too. Loud stompings of the creatures are booming, but the sound works best in the Medusa sequences. Because the Medusa can turn a man to stone with her gaze, you try to avoid her gaze like the characters onscreen, and sound effects incorporated exploit this increased aural sensitivity. Hearing the Medusa slither along is genuinely creepy, as is her reverberating echo of a laugh in the caverns. The sound department creates a legitimacy in the Medusa’s lethal qualities. Finally, the editors Vincent Tabaillon and Martin Walsh have done a very fine job of cutting these sequences. In the wake of the Paul Greengrass influence, a lot of people have simply replicated the technique and not the reasons behind shooting and cutting frantically. Also, at least in Greengrass' work you can see what is going on. That's beside the point, because this is a different type of film, and least they have the sense to not use it where it is needed least. Clash Of The Titans is a film where the action sequences rely on scope/scale and depth-of-field. You have to get the impression of a large world with large creatures. You really do, and I am so glad that the editors have, although not quite to the extent of The American, extended the shots before cuts so we can see the effects, the actions sequences and the overall wonderful mise-en-scene.

Clash Of The Titans has a enough going for it to be placed above the level of many other films of this type. However, there are as many flaws in this film as there are good things. To start me off, because I've got large sections dedicated to one fundamental problem coming up, the original score for the film is not good. Ramin Djawadi is a composer who can and has done some interesting work such as Iron Man, a guitar-driven score for which he was composer, and Batman Begins, to which he made contributions towards the final Zimmer/Newton-Howard work. To be fair, Clash Of The Titans does have some great deep percussion, the marching sounds of battle working well, and the soundtrack does work best when based purely on percussion. However, the brass ensemble is completely overbearing. For starters, this brass ensemble seems to be deemed prominent in 'necessary' moments such as travelling across the planes as though to emphasis the grandeur of their glorious journey: we already understand the scale of their journey without you telling us! Also, it doesn't help that this brass ensemble sounds EXACTLY like those horrible Jablonsky scores for Transformers. Maybe Djawadi was trying to go for a contrast of an African-based percussion sound and your atypical orchestrals, but unfortunately it does not work, instead patronising the audience and demeaning the film's credibility.

Now, the fundamental problem of the film affects so many aspects of the filmmaking process. Here we will deal specifically with the script and the script only. For starters, there are four different writers (Lawrence Kasdan, Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi), which means that although a more collaborative process, the end product turns to be a bit of everything with no grounding. Kasdan alone is a fine writer, and also a director on works such as Body Heat, with another writer or two that would have been pushing it. Three more just muddles things up. It is a smelting pot of a film that tries to do too much. Also, structurally it is horribly balanced. In the first act, the film takes on a Shakespearean element of pure emotion. From here on, we delve into Transformers territory, with a lot being said but not a lot really making sense. Dialogue too is poorly written, with everything being said in the theatrical, highly quotable yet highly clichéd way.

On the surface level, it is the acting that is affected most notably by the script. Now, to start off there is a fine ensemble of actors that have been gathered for this project. While Neeson, Worthington and Fiennes each give decent performances, it is only Mads Mikkelsen who manages to do something interesting with his character. Character development, or lack of, is the main reason as to why the actors are unable to pull off good performances. Although Hitchcock's old idiom 'actors are cattle' is perhaps a bit harsh, an actor does need to be led by the script into their interpretation of the character. Each and every character here, including Mikkelsen's Draco, are either cardboard cutout cliches or non-existent. Worthington's character is well written (and acted) in the first act, but after this he just becomes in many respects Jake Sully over again. In other cases, like Neeson and Fiennes, they just play caricatures that, although they have no problem in doing so, are not particularly interesting or even fully-rounded clichés. On the other hand then, we have the female characters. I do have a problem with the way that writers create female characters in action-blockbusters. Often, the only way for a good female character to exist in a blockbuster is for it to be a 'female picture', while less people look at action-blockbusters by default as 'men pictures.' The great exceptions to these would be those in James Cameron films, with characters such as Ellen Ripley (Aliens) and Sarah Connor (The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day). Here, we have Gemma Arterton playing Io, whose purpose seems to be stand around and fill gaps in the plot. Arterton speaks well for the role, her accent carrying a timbre that vibrates, but her character's nature starts to change during the course of the film and her performance goes a bit all over the place. The other main female character is Andromeda, who is basically serving as potential fodder for the Kraken. Female characters should like their male counterparts be created three-dimensionally and not merely be plot devices. Talents are wasted here. Danny Huston plays Poseidon, and I honestly can't remember him saying any lines in the film. If you wanted someone for a walk-on role, why not just hire an extra, and then cast the character properly in the sequel if has a larger role, you can't tell who he is anyway behind a beard.

The final major aspect that the script seriously affects is the editing. Now, the action sequences are very well edited, but I am talking about everything else around the action scenes. The script writes itself around the action scenes, and each scene around them comes across as padding, filler because action sequences aren't long enough to sustain a full film. Strangely enough, Clash Of The Titans is one of those films both too long and too short at the same time. This may not seem plausible, but believe me, it is. The film, does not have enough character development and depth, therefore on the surface level, it is too long. On the other hand, outside of the action sequences, every scene is expositional and non-incidental. Everything goes from point A to point B and so on and so forth. However, there is so much plot to deal with that realistically they could have filled a two-and-a-half hour movie. This is why the film is too short. I know, I'm throwing out the blame here, but it truly is the script that is at fault.

Clash Of The Titans is a double-edged sword of a film: the more you try to like it, the more you end up disliking it, and vice versa. By no means is it a terrible movie. There is some decent acting, particularly from Mads Mikkelsen, the special effects and production design are terrific, and Louis Leterrier is the right director for the project. However, the script is like a large stab wound in the body of the film. It affects the acting, the editing, the structure and every other aspect of the work. The most important aspect of a film is to have something to ground it, and Clash Of The Titans does not have enough grounding. It really has the potential to be so much more than it is, but it is condemned a mediocre film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Somewhere between a rock and a hard place

P.S. The ending really sucks too, trutha be told, if ya ken what eh mean!





Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The American

Directed by: Anton Corbijn

Produced by:
George Clooney
Grant Heslov
Anne Carey
Jill Green
Ann Wingate

Written by: Rowan Joffe

Story by: Martin Booth (A Very Private Gentleman novel)

Starring:
George Clooney
Violante Placido
Thelka Reuten
Paolo Bonacelli
Irina Bjorklund

Music by: Herbert Gronemeyer

Cinematography by: Martin Ruhe

Editing by: Andrew Hulme

Studio:
Smokehouse Pictures
This Is That Inc.
Greenlit Productions

Distributed by: Focus Features

Release date(s):
September 1, 2010 (United States, Canada and Kazakhstan)
November 26, 2010 (United Kingdom and Ireland)

Running time: 103 minutes

Country: United States

Language:
English
Italian

Budget: $20 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $64, 662, 422

Being the opening paragraph, basically just a paragraph that exists to get my juices flowing, I would like to open on an unrelated topic. It is still a film, so at least there is credibility to the fact that I have opted not to discuss the topic at hand. A few years ago, Righteous Kill, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, was heavily slated by critics. However, I was in HMV, and decided to buy a £3 copy: it's De Niro and Pacino, it can't be that bad. You know what? It isn't that bad. Granted, it is a hugely predictable movie with a script right out of the textbook, but it is still a watchable, 6/10 movie that is worth at least one viewing. And hello to Brian Dennehy.

So, now that I'm done, let's crack open the egg and contemplate The American. I won't lie, the first I heard of this was seeing a paperback copy of the book the film is based on (A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth) and didn't really care much for seeing it, despite George Clooney's presence. However, what eventually got me onto the film was the fact that the director was Anton Corbijn. I was a fan of Anton Corbijn through his music videos and the magnificent Control, in which Sam Riley mesmerises as Ian Curtis. Being his first film since Control, The American suddenly came upon my radar as a work that had to be seen. Then, I saw an episode on Film 2010, in which Claudia Winkleman and Danny Leigh spoke highly of the film. Their words regarding the film's marketing were what got me going. Marketing makes this look like a Bourne-esque action-thriller, which it certainly isn't. I went to the Odyssey cinema by myself and got perfect middle seating, ready to digest the film.

In The American, perhaps the most vague title to come along in a while (though it is a completely appropriate title); George Clooney plays Jack, plays an assassin and customised arms maker. Truth be told, that is all you are going to get with regards to plot details. I went into The American with a blank slate plot wise, and the film was all the better for it. Given the film's nature as a mystery (not the genre), the unfolding of the plot is important to the film's power.

Starting as ever with the film's pros, the acting in The American is fabulous. George Clooney gives the best performance that I have ever seen him deliver as Jack. A very talented actor, Clooney backpedals from the 'star' persona that his public image has given him. Clooney gives Jack a mysterious nature: much of the 'acting' is based upon facial expressions. Clooney is able to pull this off, because one he has an expressive face, and two because he is damn good. The line between 'saying things' and 'not saying things' with his facial expressions is balanced with grace. You are able to read Clooney's face, yet he doesn’t give us enough to come to definitive conclusions. Also, his movements are amazing. Watching Clooney walk as Jack is a thing of beauty. His movements are very precise, practiced, although not robotic by any means. There is the sense that underneath this well-oiled machine exterior, a wolf is in waiting, ready to snap out at any moment. This contrast between the mechanical exterior and the flesh and blood animal within is something that Clooney handles with amazing diligence. I could harp on more and more about his performance, but that would include spoilers, and I really want people to see The American. If Clooney did not give such a good performance, the film would have fell flat on its face, but it doesn't and it stands up with pride. This is the best lead male acting performance I have seen all year and Clooney will probably win my year-end award for Best Lead Male Actor if no one else shows him up. Also, while we are on the topic of acting, each of the supporting actors are also great. With Clooney's Jack the centerpiece, they serve a more symbolic purpose, although they do a fine job. I would like to single out in particular, Violante Placido, who is wonderful, and Paolo Bonacelli, for the serving of the character's symbolic purpose is excellent.

Credit must be given where it is due, and in this sense, Anton Corbijn is the bearer of a heavy burden. Having proved himself as a fabulous filmmaker with Control, one of the best films of 2006, The American confirms him as one of the most important filmmakers in the world. It speaks highly of his skills that he is able to go from Control, a low-key, low-budget biopic of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, to The American, a $20,000,000 budgeted film set in a number of European locations with George Clooney. Though both character studies, The American is a very different beast, yet Corbijn directs like a man who knows exactly what he is doing. Plotted out meticulously, Corbijn's good sense informs him of all the moves to make. He is a very wise man whose creative output, which has since the 1980's been stellar, seems to go from leap and bigger leap as his film career continues. What could have been an overlong, pretentious art-house film is turned in his hands into an art-house film that is incredibly watchable and entertaining.

Corbijn's experience as a cinematographer and music video director gives him an advantage over most directors in terms of their visual eye. His choice of Martin Ruhe, who has worked with Corbijn on Control and numerous music videos, is appropriate. Being a 'European' film in terms of location and nature, it is only right that the scenery is captured correctly. This is done so to perfection, with every shot in the film being picaresque and the kind of thing you would want to hang up on the wall. Also, I like the way that Ruhe goes for the static camera in a lot of shots, turning on its position. This creates a sense of place and location, and gives us a great amount of visual information without having to be explicitly said. Also, the cinematography, although being a 'real-world film', contributes a stylised sheen that gives the film a sense of things being hyper-realised and an accentuated collection of imagery. However, the cinematography would not work without the right hands editing. Andrew Hulme makes the right cuts, letting shots continue uncut for longer than average shot length, even in the 'action' scenes. The lingering images that Hulme opts not to cut resonate, and although Ruhe did a tremendous job of this, I do not think that their power would have been as impactful without Hulme's editing. It is work that is very generous, for no tricks are pulled in post-production, no little effects or graphics, Hulme placing enough faith in the images that Ruhe has captured. Both men should very proud of their work.

The following paragraph is going to be dedicated to the discussion of sound in general, regarding the original score, sound and sound editing. Herbert Gronemeyer composes some good themes. During the opening credit sequence, we are given the treat of hearing a fabulous opening theme that puts much of the new James Bond themes to shame. Although aurally silent for much of the film, the contributions of Gronemeyer's score come in for the most part at the right time. The sound of silence adds another layer to the film. We hear cars engines, the wind and every intonation that the actors make in their voices. Although objectively speaking, as audiences, we are given the 'vision of God' in the film, seeing all, hearing all, the sound contributes to the development of Jack as a character. The gunshots are incredibly loud so that each of the action scenes shock: they come out of nowhere and are boldly choreographed. Jack is affected mentally by his constant awareness of danger, for every time he hears a loud noise, it shocks him (and the audience), creating an instinctive response that gives the message 'GUN!' Sound is very important in The American, and it is utilised wonderfully.

Finally, the script must be discussed, for it both one of the film's greatest strengths and the film's greatest weakness. It is written by Rowan Joffe, son of Roland Joffe, who made the great films The Killing Fields and The Mission (and, eh, Super Mario Bros.), one of the scribes on 28 Weeks Later. Already having wrote a very good action film, Rowan's work on this film is great. The structure of the screenplay is solid and tight, ensuring that barely any of the film's problems stick out. Also, the dialogue that he has written is tremendous, every line resonating. Nonetheless, Joffe opts for the 'visual dialogue', as opposed to the script being too wordy. This is a wise decision that benefits the film to no end. However, problems do emerge from the script. Although for the most part brilliantly written, the central idea itself is nothing new. Granted, this is about as good an execution of an old idea you are going to get, but the whole 'lone assassin' thing has been done so many times. In 1962, Clint Eastwood became 'The Man With No Name' (a falsity in itself, this being the American marketing term for the main character of the 'Dollars Trilogy', which aren't really a trilogy) in A Fistful Of Dollars. Although Eastwood is perhaps the most memorable, it was done before, Fistful being a remake of Akira Kurosawa's 1961 Yojimbo. Anyway, the point is that for a film that nigh on perfect in nearly every other department, it is a shame that it does follow a tried-and-tested formula. Also, to finish on the cons, of which as you can see there are few, but the score by Herbert Gronemeyer does intrude in parts. This rather irritates, for the film has a unique feeling, and then the score kind-of muddles up this self-contained universe. However, it works wonderfully in the credits sequence and the ending/end-credits.

Well, one might have guessed that I liked The American. I didn't just like it: I loved it. Although no new story by any means, The American is a masterful film. Rowan Joffe's script is wonderful for the most part. It boasts a stellar turn from George Clooney, whose performance as Jack balances perfectly his being a fully-fleshed character, yet still a complete mystery. Also, Violante Placido and Paolo Bonacelli are great in the symbolic roles that they play. Anton Corbijn proves himself as an important filmmaker for years to come. The cinematography and editing by Martin Ruhe and Andrew Hulme respectively create a visually sensational work. Aurally, we are plunged into the character of Jack, thanks to some good contribution from Herbert Gronemeyer and the wise artistic decision regarding the contrasts between silence and VERY loud gun noises. Ultimately, everyone involved has created a self-contained universe that, while not an 'original' work, is unique, emotionally gripping and wholly satisfying.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Fond, despite a headache (not from the guns, but my own stupidity at not getting enough sleep)