Rent This: The American earns an Easy A along with The Other Guys

As I have previously pointed out, January-March are the cinema doldrums, a lull between festival season and the looming summer blockbusters.  So it’s nice to visit the video store and find several titles that will surprise you with how good they are.

The American

This has been described as super slow and supremely boring, but I was pleasantly startled by the quality of this film.  The film is quiet and denies the impulse to turn it into a Bourne Identity thriller, but that’s what makes it so intriguing.  The enigmatic machinist/gun builder/assassin? that George Clooney portrays is fascinating for what’s seen and not said.  By stripping away pounds of dialogue and the studio format of needing conflict to occur on specific page numbers (it exists), the simple story will leave you pondering for days.  Nothing is overblown in this film, from the sound design of popping gunshots to long takes of a picnic in the Italian countryside.  In other words, it breathes.  It isn’t hiding behind quick cuts and regular action pieces.  If you’re expecting a fast paced action thriller, of course it will disappoint.  But if you’re looking for a meditative tale about an intriguing character, this is understated filmmaking at its best.  A picture is worth a thousand words and The American is a novel.

Easy A

I’m sure everyone under the sun expected a film about a girl willing to take money in order for people to say they slept with her was going to be another stupid high school sex comedy à la American Pie.  The tragedy is that people who love American Pie saw a film that John Hughes fans would like.

Emma Stone plays the smart and sassy Olive who falls into the fictional trade of her sexual favors, which doesn’t stem from shallowness, but a yearning to do good.  She’s already being hassled for the supposed sex she had with some college guy (she didn’t, but told her friend she did), so when her male gay friend asks if she can say they did it so he’ll stop getting bullied, her compassion leads her down a messy path.  What follows is an interesting parallel to Batman in The Dark Knight.  Olive thinks she’s strong enough to have her name tarnished for the good of others (The Dark Knight‘s ending), but eventually it pays a toll and she has to break the façade.

The film isn’t perfect; it tries too hard to make the parents super “hip”, and it isn’t exactly a John Hughes quality picture.  Yet it uses the high school comedy format to dig at dramatic truths for the people stuck there, in the same way Hughes was famous for.  The sad lives of those tortured by the high school kings doesn’t ring hollow, so you understand Olive’s motivations – which is all the more powerful when she can no longer shoulder the burden of saving them.

I’ve waxed on about its deeper nature because it’s not what you would expect, but don’t let that sidetrack how funny it is.  Not to mention, Olive is one of the better female characters of 2010, joining the ranks of Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone.

The other guys

It seems as quickly as Will Ferrell hit it big, he was already on his way down.  From Land of the Lost to Blades of Glory, Ferrell has worn out his welcome with many people due mainly to meeting a saturation point.  Which is why it would be a shame if people missed The Other Guys, one of the best comedies of 2010.

The first act of the film features an over the top car chase with Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson in pursuit of some petty criminals.  The scene is a thing to behold, but the comedic punch arrives when reporters ask the two supercops if the 15 million dollars in damages was worth the misdemeanor offenses by the criminals.  This lets you know immediately that this is going to be a cop satire equal to Hot Fuzz.

The film could stand to lose 30 minutes worth of fluff, but it subverts the traditional cop film (drugs, prostitutes, blue collar crime) to focus on white collar crime as the U.S. reels from the economic collapse wrought by such characters. It’s a scathing critique of cop films, highlighting the lack of independent power in the SEC (which is supposed to prevent the types of crimes that plunged the U.S. into its worst recession since The Great Depression), and the way our judicial system allows white collar crime to fade into unimportance.  Hilarious (directed by Anchorman director Adam McKay) and scathing in its critique. You have to see this film.

-Remington Smith

5 responses to “Rent This: The American earns an Easy A along with The Other Guys

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