The Taser's Edge

The American (2010), directed by Anton Corbijn

I often post the trailer to a movie as a way to introduce it before reviewing it.  The one above is singularly annoying, as that fuzzy-radio-ized American voice which effectively narrates the trailer is found nowhere in the film.

The basic plot is that George Clooney’s character is an assassin and a gunsmith for assassins.  He is aging, he has too much loss from a violent past bearing down on him, some murderous Swedes are after him, and he settles in a quiet Italian village in order to complete a job.  Although he knows that his work requires that he never has truly personal relationships, he falls in love with a prostitute and she falls in love with him.  Eventually, of course, his career choice catches up with him and anyone near him.

I read the book on which this was based after the movie came out, by which time Martin Booth’s 1990 novel A Very Private Gentleman had already been re-titled and re-released as The American.  That novel is one of the best I read last year, but it was also clear as I read it that it would not actually be filmed.  That is, the movie would not work if it really followed the book.

In the book, the assassin never names himself, and it’s not really even clear whether he’s an American or not.  Instead of photographing architecture as in the movie, he photographs and draws butterflies. (Book “Flaw” 1: No butterflies in movies!) He becomes good friends with the priest, who is actually a holy man, and they have spiritual conversations over the priest’s wonderful cooking. (Flaw 2: No non-stereotypical priests in movies!)  Oh yes, also in the book, the Clooney character’s not an assassin. (Flaw 3: Only actual assassins, not other members of the assassin industry, are in movies!).

The biggest way in which the book fought being filmed, however, was in the way that the main character narrated it.  So much of it is his internal processing of his environment as only a highly trained and veteran hunted man could.  (Flaw 4: No thoughts in movies!) Car colors, makes, and models, and ditto with firearms.  Choosing to make sure no one can follow him back to his home by winding endlessly through the village streets on the way home.  Picking up on who is new to town, even though he himself is new to town.  Moreover, it is only very slowly that he tells us about his past or what he is doing in town. (Flaw 5: No waiting, ambiguity, or subtlety in movies!)

In the book, it takes a long while for us to know what his work really entails, while the opening scene of the movie leaves three people dead at his hand. It has altogether too much James Bond-ing, down to the throwaway beautiful (and sometimes deadly) women, the Walther PP7 Clooney carries, and the Vespa chase down ancient streets and stairways.

It’s actually sad that they couldn’t figure out some way to put a monologue over the top, both because the visuals for the film aren’t enough to translate the book, and because the reason I watch George Clooney movies is to hear his voice.  Yes, he’s beautiful (although this movie shows that even Clooney’s butt has aged in the eight years since Solaris), but his voice is even better, and this film is very low on dialogue.

Thankfully, next on the release schedule for Clooney appears to be The Descendants, and Alexander Payne has yet to disappoint at dialogue or voiceover (sadly, no great YouTube proof).

The American: solidly in the upper middle of the pretty-good-but-not-great pack.

Sunday Night Wrap Up Forward Style

Earlier this afternoon, I sat down to watch Paris, Je T’Aime.  Such auteurs as Gerard Depardieu, the Coen brothers, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Christopher Doyle (long-time cinematographer for Wong Kar-Wai), Alexander Payne, Gus Van Sant, Steve Buscemi, Natalie Portman, Willem Dafoe, Juliette Binoche, Bob Hoskins, Nick Nolte, Maggie Gyllenhall, and Elijah Wood (as a vampire, of course) join in a series of very lightly connected short films.  Holly wants me to have a favorite (as normal for her) short, but I don’t (as normal for me).  But Juliette Binoche may be the most attractive 44-year-old I know, something deeper than her looks.  And as for Steve Buscemi, well…he doesn’t really look this bad, but he really does look this bad. I hope that link didn’t cost him starring in my amazing screenplay.  For some reason, I suddenly feel like I’m writing for Us Weekly.

Tomorrow Holly goes back to work with students (having been at school without students on Friday), and she’s not yet looking forward to it.

As for my past Friday, I began reading what will surely be my last choose-to-read book for a while here (as the semester is upon us): Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis.  I think I randomly picked it up at a Durham Downtown Library book sale.  Buried it in a brown paper bag for 7 dollars or so.  When I pick a new book to read, for some reason I always start at the As on my alphabetized (for fiction, at least) bookshelf.  I think I know a bit too much about this book, namely that it is eventually about the Holocaust (sorry that you too now know too much).  I wouldn’t know that yet if I hadn’t read the critical blurbs all over the paperback.

An incredible storytelling maneuver (one which I assume will inform my future viewing of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) in which the narrator is living inside a character as that character’s life is played in reverse.  Eating, sex, and bathroom use are of course interesting, as is dialogue, which is translated out of backwards gibberish (most of the time), but is not fixed for correct conversational order:

“I promise.”
“You promise?”
“Never,” she said.
“You wouldn’t?”
“But I’d never tell.” (p. 36)

The character goes to see a movie, a romantic comedy in which the characters are very close at the beginning, have a bunch of misunderstandings, and then end up parting ways as if they don’t know each other by the end.  Pimps become the nice fellows who heal prostitutes (who pay men after having sex with them) with knives and fists.

I thought an excerpt would be helpful for seeing how backward things become, with ER doctors (like the character in which the narrator lives) becoming monsters.  (Presumably the Holocaust will soon be God’s gift of life to humanity.)  From p. 76:

“You want to know what I do?  All right.  Some guy comes in with a bandage around his head.  We don’t mess about.  We’ll soon have that off.  He’s got a hole in his head.  So what do we do?  We stick a nail in it.  Get the nail–a good rusty one–from the trash or wherever.  And lead him out to the Waiting Room where he’s allowed to linger and holler for a while before we ferry him back into the night.”

Reminds me of Anthony Burgess, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Joseph Heller, and the like.  And amazingly easy to follow for how experimental it may seem that it could be from my description.

On a more personal note, this Tuesday is my first real-life job interview (projected above, you can see that I already know the power-hold for pens during interviews, as well as how to match my tie and pocket neckerchief), for a CPE residency at UNC Hospital.  I need to gather my thoughts together on this one.  Pray for me if you’re the praying type.