The American – A Review

1 12 2010

George Clooney, The American

George Clooney in 'The American'

Films about assassins can generally go in one of two directions. They can either play up the inherent air of stylishness, mystery and glamour that we seem to associate with hit-men, or they can try to play these associations down, and instead show us contract killers as they really are: flawed, desperate and, more often than not, a little incompetent.

Most directors seem to plump wholeheartedly for Option A (Le Samourai, Leon, No Country For Old Men), and even those who opt for Option B (Ghost Dog, Grosse Pointe Blank, In Bruges) seem to find it difficult to let go entirely of the studied, self-conscious ‘cool’ that we associate with the genre.

Anton Corbijn, whose 2006 debut Control told the story of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, here finds himself with a foot in both camps too. On the one hand, George Clooney’s Jack is an archetypal cool-as-ice hit-man: methodical, isolated and ready to kill in cold blood at the drop of a hat. On the other, as he lies low in a small Italian town after a bloody opening shoot-out in Sweden, he is a man haunted by his past and by the realisation that, if he were to put his work to one side for just a moment, he would find a life with precious little else left in it to call his own.

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The Straight Story

2 03 2010

Colin Firth & Julianne Moore in 'A Single Man'

Colin Firth won a well-deserved BAFTA last week for his portrayal of a bereaved gay college professor in Tom Ford’s A Single Man. In two weeks’ time, Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor will appear as cell-mates and soul-mates in I Love You Phillip Morris, the true story of a gay ex-cop and con-artist who repeatedly escapes from jail to be with the man he loves.

On the surface, both films seem to represent a bold departure from Hollywood tradition, firstly by casting ‘name’ actors as homosexual characters, and secondly by placing these characters squarely at the centre of the narrative.

It wasn’t so long ago, after all, that even the hint of a gay private life could be enough to ruin a career in the movies. During Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’, studio publicists were keen to ensure that actors like Cary Grant and Montgomery Clift never appeared in public without a starlet on their elbow. More recently, stars like Tom Cruise and John Travolta have taken swift legal action to quash rumours of same-sex affairs. Films about gay life and culture have long been relegated to their own ‘special interest’ ghetto, and there’s long been a taboo among actors, straight or otherwise, about appearing in gay roles.

So, with recent films like Brokeback Mountain, Milk, A Single Man and I Love You Phillip Morris, is all this slowly starting to change?

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