Thursday, February 24, 2011

The American (2010) / The Mechanic (2011)

These two deserve to be treated as a pair. Both are (perhaps unnecessary) retreads of the lone operative genre, Statham's new vehicle specifically a remake of a Michael Winner movie from 1972 starring Charles Bronson, while Clooney's feels like a remake of Le Samourai, but apparently Anton Corbijn vehemently denies ever seeing it. Both men have to kill someone they care about, both are 'good with machinery'.

In a sense The American is an oddly-named movie, because where it differs most starkly from The Mechanic is in its European arthouse heritage.

Clooney plays Jack/Edward, a warrior-gunmaker in service to a grizzled, but otherwise low-key Rome-based master called Pavel. Forced to flee the frozen north when — we can surmise — his cover is broken, Clooney comes to Italy in search of new instructions.

Strangely reluctant to use mobile phones, he will only contact Pavel from phone-booths once in the same country as his master. Pavel tells Jack/Edward not to make contact with anyone, but soon he is breaking up his solitude by sharing mealtimes with the local priest and trysts with a hooker called Clara.

Crucially Pavel also told Jack to make himself scarce in the town of Castelvecchio, but on arriving there the locals seem to give him the heebie geebies, so he drives over to the (presumably) nearby town of Castel del Monte, also situated atop a substantial hill.

Now, unless I got the wrong end of the stick, this decision, which I somehow expected to have more plot significance, results in Jack/Edward doing quite a lot of driving between the two towns throughout the movie — making for some footage which is all very beautiful and scenic, but leaving less time for Corbijn to show us how his relationship with Clara flowers into love and less time for dialogue with the priest; which is a pity, I thought. (Much of the tension hangs on the trust-ability of the hooker, but I was rather hoping that the priest would also come under suspicion. At one point he reminds Jack/Edward that he had told him that he was bad with machinery and I distinctly recalled that it was Pavel not the priest to whom that remark had been directed.)

Clooney delivers a measured performance, sometimes a little too placid, but most often highly suggestive of the character's inner control in his workshop which, outside of it at least, is being steadily eroded by a need for human contact and some justifiable anxiety about the various shadows tailing him. Just the thought of what would have happened if Corbijn had instead cast Jason Statham in this role was enough to convince me of the centrality of Clooney to this movie's power to engage.

The mayhem here is on a much smaller scale than in The Mechanic, but pushes credibility even further. How can such a small town support such a large bordello, and a body count of more than one? Where are all the old ladies wandering around the streets at night, or at least twitching their curtains? That said, the car chase at the end of The Mechanic is one of the most pointless ever put on celluloid.

If Clooney probably downsized his pay-cheque to go European, Statham was in turn was no doubt pleased to have finally upgraded himself from the European B-movie scene into a more substantially-funded Hollywood flick. The problem here is that, even though many of us find Statham bizarrely charismatic on screen, the producers here have not trusted him to carry a more expensive movie on his own, and have thus saddled him with Ben Foster as a particularly unloveable sidekick for the duration of The Mechanic. (viz Jacky Chan's earliest crossover films.)

When the lone operative is betrayed by his bosses, he can either track them down one by one and kill them all, as Statham does — leaving room for the sequel he has traditionally squeezed out of his roles — or he can follow the standard Japanese model and die in the process, or, as I seem to recall in Boiling Point (or was it Sonatine?) blow his own brains out having run out of betrayers to kill. It wasn't hard to guess which way Jack/Edward's path lay.

By the way, I think all forms of religious/folkloric/St Patrick's Day processions should be banned from the last act of thriller plots.

The Mechanic, Grade: B

The American, Grade: B(+)


Begonia said...

"By the way, I think all forms of religious/folkloric/St Patrick's Day processions should be banned from the last act of thriller plots."

Hear, hear!

Anonymous said...

You review "The American" and mention Greene's "The Honorary Consul" elsewhere but I see no mention of the dialogue from the novel copied for Clooney's scenes with Clara. I was reading it coincidentally when I saw the movie, and I fortunately picked up on it. Is it too late to post on this? No one on the internet seems to have noticed it. Completely at random, I reveal it here.

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