Monday, October 4, 2010

“The American” – Because the title of the book on which it was based just wasn’t good enough.

Well, we’re back here again. I hope you’re not tired of talking about Hollywood always messing up books when they adapt them to film. Obviously, I’m not tired of the discussion. So, once again, we are given proof that there may not be any screenwriters left capable of an original thought. Maybe that’s their job description now – to adapt books to film. Maybe that’s the way it’s always been and we continue to delude ourselves into thinking these movies are “new.” To be fair, unless the book is hugely popular, i.e. Harry Potter or The Da Vinci Code, you wouldn’t know most movies were based on books unless you do a little research. Usually, this fact is discovered by reading the opening credits, which is how I discovered that this movie was adapted from a book called A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth. Amazingly, only one person is credited as writer (aside from Booth), so we don’t have to try to guess which of the usual fleet of writers is responsible for certain pieces of the film. Welcome to my world, Rowan Joffe.

Originally, I had no intentions of seeing this movie strictly because of the title. Not only is this an incredibly stupid title, it seemed an obvious attempt to pander to everyone who still believes our current wars are about anything but oil. Once you’ve finished watching the film, it makes even less sense (I’ll explain in a moment) and only serves as a reminder that George Clooney is, in fact, American. What changed my mind was being in a strange city for business, sheer boredom, and a lack of options. I like Clooney, so I figured it was my best option.

Unfortunately, I haven’t read the novel, so I can’t attack Joffe as much as is probably possible. However, I did read a quick synopsis of the book, so I can attack him a little. After deciding the author’s title was stupid, he moved on by changing the main character’s name from Edward to Jack, changing his nationality from English to American, and making him an assassin instead of a just a weapons maker for assassins. Either Joffe doesn’t think very highly of Americans or someone he knows was assassinated by the CIA. Either way, he really wanted to make sure that there could be no mistaking this character for one of his fellow Englishmen.

As obvious as those changes are, it’s much harder to tell how much of the story was changed. Even though Jack is an assassin, nothing in the film outright confirms this. We meet him as he is walking through a snow-covered forest with his girlfriend, Ingrid, when someone starts shooting at him. After killing the shooter, he tells Ingrid to go call the police as he is rifling through the man’s clothes. As she walks by, Jack shoots her in the back of the head. I had the same reaction you just did – “wait, what?” He protects the girl from being killed, then kills her? This makes no sense, but we’re supposed to accept it when he calls a contact, Pavel, and is admonished for getting close to someone. The other issue I had with this scene is that Jack looks scared out of his mind when he is firing his gun. This doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in his abilities as an assassin.

After cleaning up the bodies, Jack flies to Rome to meet up with Pavel and asks him to find out how the Swedes located him. Pavel’s reaction is very noncommittal, all but giving away that he was responsible. He sends Jack into the mountains of Italy and gives him another job. From this point until the climax, the film devolves into a series of short takes that do nothing to move the plot along or develop any of the characters. It’s just Jack driving his car, Jack walking through town, Jack machining some gun parts, Jack drinking coffee, Jack filing a bullet, Jack screwing a prostitute, Jack talking to a priest, etc. etc. In roughly eighty minutes of film, the only real event that happens is Jack killing another Swede who tries to kill him. At that point, the audience is practically catatonic and there’s only one way to wake them up – boobs.

The central point of the film seems to be the humanizing of Jack, which includes a relationship he develops with a local prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido). The first time we meet her she promptly strips off her clothes and gives us a full view of why she was cast in this role. Just in case this wasn’t enough to rip every male in the audience out of their collective coma, Jack’s got half her breast in his mouth and slides down her body, out of the camera shot. I don’t bring this up to be gratuitous, rather to convey a little shock at seeing an A-list actor doing a pretty heavy sex scene. Considering how pathetic our society is at handling nudity and sex, not to mention its hypocrisy when it comes to violence, it was shocking to see a well-known star do more than French kiss. Sadly, the scene ended and we went right back to Jack eating a scone. And no, that’s not a euphemism.

With about five minutes remaining, the film finally comes to a head with one more attempt to kill Jack. I won’t tell you any details since I didn’t hate the movie that much. What I will tell you is that there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered. We never learn who the Swedes are, we never find out why people want him dead, and we never find out who Pavel is. The only things we take away from this movie are that Joffe has a serious issue with America and Clooney may or may not be able to perform an English accent. Part of me wants to believe that there were a lot of aspects of this film that would appeal to film majors, but most of me believes it was just another film screwing up a novel. Oh well – at least there were boobs.

Rating: Ask for eight dollars back. Two minutes of boobs doesn’t make up for one hundred minutes of boredom.

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