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Review – Titanic 3D (12a) [2012; originally released in 1997]

Star Rating: 4/5

A century has passed since the White Star Line’s ‘unsinkable’ Titanic sank on her maiden voyage, taking down 1,503 souls with her to the watery abyss. It was a tragedy, but one that still fascinates people for so many reasons. The absorbing 1997 film, re-released in 3D for the centenary of the disaster, embodies why this is the case.

Titanic’s bow at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Looks little more than a ghost ship now, with rusticles giving it an eerie feel.

Titanic centres round two central characters who board the ship as it takes off from Southampton for New York in April 1912. Rose (when old, played by Gloria Stuart; when young, played by Kate Winslet – Revolutionary Road, Contagion, Steve Jobs) is the daughter of a bankrupt aristocrat and is travelling in the luxuries of first-class. Against Rose’s will, her mother, Ruth (Frances Fisher – The Roommate, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Silent Thief), has set her up to marry Caledon ‘Cal’ Hockley (Billy Zane – Back to the Future I-II, The Roommate, The Employer), a wealthy businessman, to relieve the family of their crippling debts.

Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio – Revolutionary Road, Inception, The Wolf of Wall Street), on the other hand, is a dirt-poor artist journeying in third-class. After spending time in a variety of European cities, he is returning to America for a better life.

Whilst on the decks, Jack spots Rose on the higher levels and is instantly taken by her beauty. Yet, it is not until Rose is on the verge of jumping off the vessel’s stern that they meet. Jack urges her not to plunge to her death in the freezing waters and she follows his advice.

Subsequently, much to the envy of Cal, love blossoms between Jack and Rose… Until a cold, cloudless night when Titanic, running at full steam, strikes an iceberg.

For a film that is predominantly about a love story, Titanic is surprisingly gripping and abetted by a powerful music score, written by James Horner. Astonishingly, the film does not feel like it’s three hours and fifteen minutes long, since director/producer James Cameron (Alien, Avatar I-II, Sanctum) uses the time cleverly.

Cal (Billy Zane) and Ruth (Frances Fisher) reluctantly welcome Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) to dinner in the glorious, first-class dining hall. Rose (Kate Winslet) accompanies him, drawing the ire of her fiancé and mother.

For the two hours or so before Titanic suffers its fatal wound, Cameron ensures viewers believe the false sense of security that passengers undoubtedly felt aboard the ‘unsinkable’ ship (even though audiences know the ship’s doomed fate), and gives the characters a (clichéd) 1912-societal role, depth and humour to maintain one’s interest.

Moreover, Cameron makes the vessel hit the iceberg with (approximately) an hour and a half to go. With Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber – Legally Blonde, Milk, Argo) stating that Titanic has less than two hours afloat, it feels like one watches the ship keel in real time, instead of in a quick, artificial manner. This not only means viewers can realise the anarchy that gripped the ship as she went under; it enables one to appreciate the heroics of individuals on the night, such as the officers who sent out distress signals until Titanic’s power failed, and the life-boat stewards, like William Murdoch (who has been incorrectly portrayed as a murderer by Cameron) and Harold Lowe (Ioan Gruffudd – Fantastic I-II, Sanctum, Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box), who lowered as many boats and got as many people into them as possible, amidst the chaos.

And because Cameron has so much time, he also properly shows us the cowardice of others, like Bruce Ismay (Jonathan Hyde – The Mummy, The Tailor of Panama, Spooks), who wanted headlines so badly he imperilled the ship he named (ironically immortalising Titanic), and Edward J. Smith (Bernard Hill – The Lord of the Rings II-III, Valkyrie, Paranorm), the reckless and dithering captain, who at least had the dignity to go down with the vessel.

On the whole, the actors play their parts well, particularly Kate Winslet (even though she recently came out saying that her acting could have been better and she has a point), Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Billy Zane and Kathy Bates (Misery, Midnight In Paris, Starbright), as the ‘unsinkable’ Molly Brown.

However, the cast’s performances are often undermined by risible dialogue. The worst offender, by a distance, is Leonardo DiCaprio. (Not that Winslet does herself much credit by shrieking “Jack” frequently.) DiCaprio’s ability to spew out contrived lines in a desperate voice is almost an embarrassment to the victims of the disaster.

Dialogue may not be one of Cameron’s specialities (Avatar illustrated that), but as a director he cannot be questioned. The impeccable way Titanic has been filmed and flows are testimony to this. That the movie’s set is huge and that one hardly notices the numerous special effects give clout to this (apart from a couple of poor CGI shots of the bow’s nose).

After sounding like a wounded animal as water flooded the bow and lower levels, the weight of the ship’s stern finally takes its toll on the vessel, breaking it in two.

Alas, the 3D does not effectively aid the film. It is not that effort hasn’t been put in. Rather, Titanic is not the type of film wherein the 3D can enhance scenes much, other than when people are falling from the stern as the giant propellers rise monstrously from the water.

All-in-all, Titanic is an enchanting film that gives us a window into a by-gone era. The film brilliantly details many of the complexities of early-twentieth century society, with moving music and special effects that are as magnificent as the ship that left Southampton. But the movie also does the tragedy justice, pointing out the valour of some and the pusillanimity of others. This is why the fate of the ‘unsinkable’ ship will forever have the power to captivate.

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Review – Your Highness (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

We’ve had spoofs of horror films, action films and even vampire love-stories. Now, for the first time since the amusing Robin Hood: Men In Tights, there is a parody on a medieval-based kingdom; albeit, this movie has elements of fantasy and magic in it. Your Highness may not be the most hilarious film one will see this year, but it certainly has many funny moments.

Thadeous (Danny McBride) watches as Fabious (James Franco) waits for the magical compass to indicate which way will lead them to the Sword of the Unicorn.

The film revolves around Thadeous (Danny McBride – Due Date, Despicable Me, Up In The Air), the fat and lazy second son of King Tallious (Charles Dance – Game of Thrones, Aliens 3). Thadeous is a stark contrast to his older brother, Fabious (James Franco – 127 Hours, Spiderman I, II & III, The Rise of Planet of The Apes), the handsome and athletic heir, who is the hero of the nation. Not long into the film, Fabious’ fiancée, Belladonna (Zooey Decshanel – Yes Man, 500 Days of Summer, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), is taken by the evil sorcerer, Leezar (Justin Theroux – American Psycho, Megamind, Miami Vice). Fabious must rescue her, and do so before the two moons come together. Otherwise Leezar will defile Belladonna, impregnating her so she can give birth to a dragon that will enable him to take over the kingdom.

As Leezar is a powerful sorcerer, the only way Fabious can defeat him is with the mystical Sword of the Unicorn. Thus, Fabious, Thadeous and a couple of others go on a quest to find the fabled sword. En route, they come across the beautiful warrior Isabelle (Natalie Portman – Star Wars I-III, Black SwanThor), who has her own reasons for wanting to defeat Leezar.

The plot is ridiculous and amusing at the same time. Your Highness does not take itself remotely serious and nor do the actors. If one were expecting another award nominating display from James Franco and Natalie Portman, one should think again before seeing this movie. The actors see the film for what it is (a joke) and play their roles accordingly. Indeed, one wonders how they kept a straight face whilst they recited some of their cliché and ludicrously laughable lines.

The evil one, Leezar (Justin Theroux), smirking as he waits for the two moons to merge.

Nevertheless, the dialogue in Your Highness does make viewers laugh quite frequently. It is a very modern, crude dialogue though; devoid of any real reflection of the medieval era. This is not necessarily a criticism; however, if one were going into this film believing it to be a satire of a by-gone age then one will be disappointed.

There is little else to note about Your Highness. The structure of the film has been done reasonably well by the director, David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, The Sitter, Joe), but the special effects are nothing special,  and the music is a comical mishmash between Pirates of the Caribbean and The Lord of the Rings (plus probably a handful of other scores from films that I am unaware of).

Ultimately, Your Highness makes people laugh and, as a comedy, it therefore fulfils its prime purpose without being anything noteworthy. One will not be in hysterical laughter throughout the entire film, but will find much of the movie amusing if one likes crude humour.

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Review – The Fighter (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

‘Why do we fall down, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.’ Thomas Wayne may have asked his son this question in Batman Begins; yet, the question (and subsequent answer) is an equally valid motto for another excellent movie: The Fighter.

The Fighter is based on a true story. Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg – The Lovely Bones, The Italian Job, We Own The Night) comes from a deprived area in Lowell, Massachusetts. He is a street-sweeper by trade and an aspiring boxer on the side, struggling to make an honest buck. Mickey has been taught everything he knows by his older brother, Dickey (Christian Bale – The Machinist, The Dark Knight, 3:10 To Yuma), who is an ex-boxer that never quite made it big. In recent times, Dickey has become a crack-addict. As much as he is Mickey’s best aid, Dickey is also his brother’s greatest liability. Mickey’s mother and manager, Alice (Melissa Leo – Hide and Seek, Conviction, Red State), as well as the rest of this family (possibly minus his father), are not much better either.

Mickey does and, simultaneously, does not have the right kind of support. His confidence is low; he hasn’t done well in his previous fights. He’s struggling. It’s only after he meets Charlene (Amy Adams – Catch Me If You Can, Enchanted, The Master), a not unattractive college drop-out with little going for her; takes a battering against a boxer with twenty pounds more muscle on him; and after he recovers from a broken hand, that Mickey’s fortunes begin to change for the positive. But it does not come without an immense amount of hard work and sacrifice.

The plot may not move at breakneck speed, but it is still quite inspiring and entertaining. The quality of the acting by Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams and Christian Bale is undoubtedly the best feature of the film. Due to Wahlberg’s performance, one has little difficulty empathising with Mickey. Wahlberg wonderfully captures the timidity of a humble person that suffers from low confidence and dejection, without being melodramatic. Likewise, Wahlberg maintains his character’s dignity admirably when he regains his self-assurance. This is no easy feat. Why Wahlberg was not nominated for an Oscar is a mystery.

One who was nominated for an Oscar is Amy Adams. Here, she plays the role of Mickey’s highly supportive girlfriend splendidly. Charlene has her issues as well, buttressing Adams’ performance because it makes her act more realistically. The only thing that works against Adams is that Charlene does not have an overly challenging personality. This may stop Adams from an Oscar triumph.

The same cannot be said for Christian Bale’s acting in The Fighter. In arguably his finest performance yet, Bale outshines his co-stars. When he’s not on-screen, one almost wishes him to return as he is that good. One could feasibly believe that Bale is a drug-addict from this movie, such is the intensity and energy he puts into the role. (And this is saying something for a man who has played many diverse roles extremely well throughout his career.) If he wins an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, it will be fully justified.

The cast could not have acted so well without brilliant scripts. For this, credit must go to the script-writer, Scott Silver (8 Mile), and the director, David O. Russell (Three Kings). The scripts may not be as elegant and witty as that in The King’s Speech, or as intelligent as that in True Grit. Still, the dialogue between the characters in The Fighter is indicative of the environment from which Mickey, Dickey and Charlene come from, and, therefore, gives the movie a greater sense of realism.

Charlene (Amy Adams) at the bar where she meets Mickey.

If one were to be ruthless, one could argue that the choreography and the music in The Fighter were not as sublime as the above films. Some scenes did not flow as smoothly as they could have done; and, with regards to the feel-good factor, the music here was not as uplifting as the scores in The King’s Speech. Similarly, it is also a shame for the director that the cinematography could not have been as beautiful as in other films (for example The Way Back), since The Fighter is shot in depressing neighbourhoods. This should not, theoretically, take anything away from the film. Nevertheless, seeing miserable areas is not as aesthetically pleasing as picturesque landscapes. Again though, this is being very harsh (and semi-unfair) on the director.

All-in-all, The Fighter, despite some minor defects, is a fantastic film and has a cast worthy of their nominations; Bale particularly so. The movie also has plenty of moral messages. It illustrates how bad environments can hinder one’s progress and shows us the possible results of drug addiction. But most importantly of all, The Fighter emphasises that when one gets knocked down by life’s challenges, one has to learn how to stand up again and fight on.

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Review – True Grit (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 5/5

Less than four years since they made the Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men, the Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel (A Simple Man, Burn After Reading), have returned to the ‘cowboy genre’ with a bang (pardon the pun). No Country For Old Men was a brilliant film. True Grit is even better.

The plot for True Grit is quite straightforward. Based in a small town in Midwest America in the late-nineteenth century, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin – No Country For Old Men, Wall Street 2, American Gangster) killed Frank Ross in cold murder. Frank’s extremely intelligent, precocious fourteen-year-old daughter, Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld), is determined to have her father’s death avenged. After the local law enforcement agency refuses to chase Chaney, Mattie employs Rooster (Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart, The Big Lebowski, Seventh Son), a drunk and ruthless cowboy to find Chaney.

A drunk Rooster, played by Jeff Bridges, trying to shoot accurately on the back of a horse.

As Mattie strikes a deal with Rooster; Laboeuf (Matt Damon – The Bourne Identity, The Departed, Invictus), a dumb but wily Texan Ranger emerges. Laboeuf also wants Chaney. The latter is wanted in Texas for the murder of a senator. Despite some differences on where Chaney should be tried (Mattie wants him to be put to justice in her town, while Laboeuf needs to bring him back to Texas or else he won’t get paid), Mattie, Rooster and Laboeuf head off together in search of their man.

If the storyline does not make one believe that True Grit should have been a five-star film, the flawless and Oscar-worthy acting certainly will. Jeff Bridges splendidly captures the attitude, habits and language of an aging, drunk-but-funny, Midwest, trigger-happy cowboy. Similarly, Matt Damon illustrates that being a far-from-bright ranger on a horseback comes just as naturally to him as being the secret agent, Jason Bourne.

Yet, the performances of Bridges and Damon are cast into the shadows by that of Steinfeld. If the star of No Country For Old Men was the frighteningly serene villain with red-rimmed-eyes, played by Javier Bardem, then Steinfeld is the stand-out entertainer of True Grit. Mattie’s ability to understand the complexities of law; her ability to see through people as if they were opaque, plus her witty tongue are all down to the proficiency of Steinfeld. It almost beggar’s belief that Mattie was played by a fourteen-year-old! Indeed, one will struggle to witness a more assured and mature performance from someone of her age over the coming decade.

Mattie attempting to feed the ill-tempered Laboeuf beside a campfire one night.

The acting, however, would not be half as impressive if the characters would have been without well-written scripts. They might have got away with it provided they’d have just maintained strong Midwest accents (like Russell Crowe and Christian Bale did in 3:10 To Yuma); but the three main actors do more than that in this movie. Bridges, Damon and Steinfeld adopt a dialogue that one can realistically imagine ‘Middle Americans’ once using (or even still use in some places today). That there are no lapses whilst they talk in this semi-alien tongue makes their performances all the more remarkable.

The magnificent acting and dialogue are matched by the choreography, music and landscapes throughout the film. Each scene smoothly slots in, one after another, without interruption. In addition, the music is always fitting for the scene; as are the differing sceneries the Coen brothers have employed, showing us that Midwest America is more than just a desert with a dozens of cacti.

In short, True Grit is a model of a film and a realistic portrayal of how cowboys used to go about their business. One does not need to be a fan of Western-style movies to appreciate that from the directing; to the production; to the writing of the screenplay and the music scores; to the acting, True Grit is as close to perfect as a film can be.

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Review – Black Swan (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

Obsession is a dangerous mindset to fall into. It has the power to consume its victim, and drive him or her to madness. Black Swan may look like it is about ballerinas and Ballet in general, but it is not: it is about obsession, and the psychological effects and the physical strains it can cause someone. Yet, if the film meant to tackle these complex issues acutely, it goes preposterously too far to be taken seriously.

The movie is viewed through the eyes of Nina (Natalie Portman – Star Wars I IIIBrothers, Your Highness), an innocent, pretty but mentally unstable ballerina, who lives with her domineering mother (Barbara Hershey – Falling Down, Hannah and her Sisters). Nina has seemingly devoted her whole life to becoming Odette, the White Swan, in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. But the company she works for has made a slight altercation to the performance: the girl who plays Odette will also have to play her evil twin-sister, Odile, the Black Swan. Whilst Nina fits the role of the White Swan perfectly, she has to learn how to become manipulative and provocative in order to play the Black Swan.

Thomas urging Nina to ‘feel’ and ‘respond’ to his touch as the latter needs to learn how to become the Black Swan.

Nina is determined to play both roles flawlessly. But her obsession with perfection exposes her already fragile mind, as well as her various insecurities. It is not long before reality and Nina’s perceptions of reality (hallucinations?) start to thread together to look like one and the same. Paranoia goes hand in hand with this too. A younger and, perhaps, even more beautiful girl, called Lily (Mila Kunis – Family Guy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Friends with Benefits), joins the company making Nina believe that she is going to be replaced as the lead performer. Consequently, Nina works ever harder, pushing herself to the brink (and beyond), in order to please and convince her demanding boss, Thomas (Vincent Cassels – La Haine, Derailed, Trance), that she is right for the dual role. Regardless of the personal cost.

The acting in Black Swan, across the board, is exceptional. Natalie Portman is without a doubt the star of the show. Portman captures the mental anguish that Nina goes through with remarkable consistency and concentration. One is never sure what mental state Nina is in, or what is real and what is not real with her. Portman is solely responsible for this and rightly deserves the credit.

This is not to say that Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey or Vincent Cassels do themselves an injustice; far from it. But Portman’s performance as Nina is Oscar-winning material. It has also finally enabled her to remove the shackles from her piteous performance as Padmé in Star Wars I, II and III. Yes, Portman’s performances in Closer and Brothers showed us that she had the potential to be a great actor, but in Black Swan she reveals that she has more than just mere potential with stunning effect.

Lily, played by Mila Kunis, looking beautiful despite having done some intense ballet practice.

It is not just the acting that is superb throughout the movie. The director, Darren Aranofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) has done the choreography and the music brilliantly too. As a result, just like in Pi and Requiem, the disturbing nature of Black Swan has the maximum effect upon the audience. (Think of the masturbation or the lesbian-sex scenes to mention but two.)

The travesty for Black Swan is that it is neither as intense nor as shocking as it should have been. It is certainly not in the same league as Requiem. Whilst Requiem is harrowingly realistic, Black Swan becomes a little farcical towards the end. This is a pity for cast and director alike. It is unlikely that Aranofsky, judging by his previous works, intended to turn this movie into a pantomime.

These are by no means the only flaws in Black Swan either. Although the film hints at how dedicated one must be to become a top ballerina, it fails to detail the positive aspects of the industry. Instead, the movie focuses upon many of the negative stereotypes, such as eating disorders and overbearing parents. (Apparently, much of these are out of date in the West.)

Black Swan is by no means an objective portrayal of the Ballet world. The film also lacks the jaw-dropping, stomach-churning ability of Requiem. Then again, Black Swan is still a very entertaining psychological thriller and is quite distressing. Moreover, the acting is of the highest quality. Few actors will better Natalie Portman’s performance over the coming year, and she rightly deserves the nominations and awards she is receiving. It is just a shame for her and Aranofsky that audiences have laughed more at the absurdity of Nina’s descent, than taken note of the possible consequences of obsession.

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Review – The King’s Speech (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

The term ‘born for greatness’ is one often used to describe the life of king. Nevertheless, it is a vague term: one that does not give a remote hint to the strains and struggles that comes with achieving great feats. The King’s Speech illustrates a form of such a challenge with the brilliance of a masterpiece.

Bertie, played by Colin Firth, gives a speech at Wembley in the mid-1920s that goes awry due to his stammer.

The film centres on Bertie (Colin Firth – Bridget Jones’ Diary, Dorian Gray, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), the future King George VI of Britain (1936-52), who has a terrible stammer, and how he must overcome this stammer in order to compete with the other great orators of his era, such as Sir Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler. When it becomes clear that his older brother, David (Guy Pearce – Memento, The Hurt Locker, Prometheus), the future King Edward VIII (abdicated in 1936), would rather marry Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), a twice-divorced American woman, than take up the throne, the necessity for Bertie to speak more eloquently becomes paramount. After-all, he is next in line.

After trying several therapists for years, Bertie turns to Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush – Pirates of the Caribbean I-IV, Shakespeare In Love) and his unconventional methods to help solve the problem. By taking us through stage-by-stage of Logue’s methods, the director, Tom Hooper (The Damned United, Les Misérables), ensures that we see Bertie’s tremendous struggle to complete a sentence without stuttering (something seemingly so effortless for the majority of us). However, we would not be able to realise just how frustrating and aggravating it must have been for Bertie if it weren’t for the exceptional performance of Colin Firth. Never before has an Adam’s Apple been so over-worked or scrutinised as in The King’s Speech.

Yet, it is not just Bertie’s consistent stammering that makes Firth’s act so memorable, but also how it affects Bertie’s general behaviour. Throughout the movie, the future George VI suffers from chronic diffidence. His speech impediment affects everything from the way he walks, talks and looks at people; to his need for emotional support from his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter – Fight Club, Harry Potter V, VI, VII(i) & VII(ii), Alice in Wonderland, Les Misérables), the future Queen Elizabeth II’s mother. And this does not even include his bad temper or his fears; most notably, public speaking. In a first-class display, Firth captures Bertie’s dread superbly as well as his character’s comprehension of the responsibilities of a monarch.

Anxiety reigns supreme as Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), George VI and Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) wait for the king to give his big speech not long after Britain declared war on Germany on 3rd September 1939.

Firth is undoubtedly the stand-out performer of the movie. But that is not to say that Geoffrey Rush or Helena Bonham Carter do the film a disservice. On the contrary, they play their roles very well: the former as the tolerant therapist with a wry sense of humour, who understands how best to deal with the king’s stammer; and the latter, as the supportive wife of a man who feels that he must triumph against all odds in order to carry out his duty as king.

Alas, The King’s Speech does not touch upon the gastric problem that Bertie endured throughout his life. It also wrongly portrays the relationship between Bertie and David. (Not to mention the one between Elizabeth and David too.) Since the film is based on real events (as opposed to a book or an urban legend), historical accuracy is important and is slightly lacking in the movie, even if it is regarding a relatively minor part of the story.

This, though, should not take too much away from The King’s Speech. The film is simple, original and outstanding. In addition, it is funny (albeit in a very English way) and engaging. The acting is fitting for Oscar nominations, and Firth’s ability to make us feel the pain that Bertie’s stammer caused him is right up there with the greatest of performances. That there is no fairytale ending to the film gives The King’s Speech greater credit and more than a twinkle of realism: it makes us appreciate how and why King George VI managed to win over the affections of millions across the world.

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Review – The American (15) [2010]

Star Rating: 2/5

When one thinks of a spy film, the Bourne series, Munich and Salt spring to mind. Those movies were action packed and fast-paced; and in Salt, one at least watches Angelina Jolie wearing tightly fitted costumes and doing all kinds of interesting stunts and kicks. The American, on other hand, has little of these qualities; and George Clooney (From Dusk Til Dawn, Ocean’s Eleven, The Ides of March), playing the role of an American spy in Italy, fails to appeal to the audience in the same way that Matt Damon, Eric Bana and Jolie do in their respective films.

Clooney making out with Violente Placido at a picturesque and secluded stream.

In saying that, the director, Anton Corbijn (Control), has deliberately gone for a very different type of spy film relative to other recent movies within the genre. He has gone for an artistic film. One is forced to admire the beautiful Italian sceneries as well as tolerate the silence that dominates much of the film. The lack of dialogue in The American is reminiscent to Francis Coppola’s Lost In Translation. Consequently, there are numerous (and arguably pointless) scenes of Clooney alone, saying nothing. A lot of the time, the same is true when Clooney is with people. Questions asked to him are often left unanswered, which is poor-show from Corbijn.

Clooney, refreshingly, is not his usual charming self in The American. He cuts a sombre and lonely person throughout much of the film. Even in scenes when he is with people, like when he is with the priest having religious conversations or when he is with the escort/prostitute, Clara (Violenta Placido), Clooney is almost always distant, cold and unable to speak his mind. One imagines this could be indicative of spies in general: they can’t reveal their real jobs as that would most likely endanger their lives, their mission and their country. Occasionally, we see the paranoia that goes through the mind of a spy; for example, the constant look over the shoulder. But Clooney does not capture a spy’s paranoia as well as the actors in Munich do, which is a shame for him. That is not to say that Clooney does a bad job in this film. But devoid of a script, not to mention his smooth-tongue and amiable smile, he is not the same actor.

Clooney holding a rifle with a silencer as he practices his shooting accuracy.

Still, Clooney is one of the few bright spots in The American. (Other decent aspects include the gorgeous women he meets and sleeps with.) Irritatingly, the storyline, if there is one at all, has no context. Throughout the film, one wonders: why Clooney is in this small town in Italy; who he’s working for; who he’s targeting; and if he is an asset or a liability to his organisation. If the plot were fast-moving, Corbijn might have gotten away with this. But as it is slow, the movie is disinteresting and boring.

What’s more, The American is not especially entertaining. It does not matter how picturesque the Italian landscapes are or if some of the paranoia’s of being a spy are illustrated; a film’s first job is to entertain. Thus, Corbijn has let down Clooney as well as his audience.

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