IN THIS thriller directed by Anton Corbijn (who made the excellent Control, about Joy Division singer Ian Curtis) George Clooney plays Jack, an American hit man at large in Europe.
In the opening scene his Swedish idyll is disturbed by some enigmatic assassins sent to kill him – after expertly dealing with them, Jack coldly shoots the female companion with whom he was previously enjoying a romantic stroll. From here, it’s on to beautifully-shot Italy and a rendezvous with a priest, who pressures him to take confession, and a femme fatale who hires him to build her a rifle.
Based on the Martin Booth novel A Very Private Gentleman, The American, despite it’s name, is noticeably European cinema: it’s a terse, stylish, minimalist piece. Often the style itself is the substance, the action punctuated with lengthy brooding silences – it’s no high-octane thriller.
The plot is marked by an absence of any back-story – the film’s strength lies in being streamlined. Clooney, on cold, laconic form, is brilliant as the lone wolf in existential crisis. While bullet-riddled thrillers with Europe as the exotic backdrop are ten-a-penny, films this stylish and absorbing, especially with a star of Clooney’s calibre, certainly aren’t.
TAKE a freight train packed with dangerous chemicals, point it at a town with a depot full of explosives, throw in a bus load of school kids on a day trip, release the break, remove the driver and set the speed to “full pelt runaway mayhem”. It’s a set-up as hackneyed and hoary as they come, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be great fun.
Add in director Tony “Top Gun” Scott, Denzel Washington and his hundred storey high charisma and a $100m budget, plus helicopters, explosions, soldiers and the odd interesting back story, and you’ve got a pure, excitement-all-the-way action thriller that’s as enjoyable as it’s utterly ridiculous, and knows it.
Washington is a veteran signalman facing redundancy, forced to spend his last day working with upstart train driver-in-training Chris Pine (Captain Kirk in last year’s Star Trek film). When news comes through of the aforementioned runaway train – “not just a train but a missile the size of the Chrysler building” – it’s up to the mismatched pair to risk their lives bringing it to a halt.
Rosario Dawson is on hand as the depot manager backing them up, while Kevin Dunn is the out-of-his-depth train company boss who (but of course) gets every decision wrong. Meanwhile Washington’s trying to get in touch with his daughters before his death-or-glory moment, and they just happen to be – along with Pine’s estranged wife and child – in the town where the train’s set to derail. Cripes.
No one can direct an action sequence like Scott, or build kinetic tension, and Washington is as compelling as ever. Stupid, deafening, marvellous fun.
IT SEEMED Russell Crowe was a shoe-in for this year’s Dick van Dyke Memorial Award for Hollywood actors displaying dodgy British accents, for his mangled Nottingham-by-way-of-Liverpool-and-Glasgow enunciations in Ridley Scott’s po-faced Robin Hood. But Russ can rest easy, since Colin Farrell’s attempt at cockerney geezah lingo in this gangster thriller is more dismal still.
However, it’s not the worst thing in this film. That would be the story, or the script, or the direction. Take your pick, they’re all as duff as each other. Farrell plays Mitchell, a crim on release after a stretch in Pentonville, who wants to go straight. But, you guessed it, a gangster king pin has other ideas. The gangster kingpin, Gant, is played by Ray Winstone. Oh go on Ray, stretch yourself.
Meanwhile, Keira Knightley plays a famous actress hounded by the paparazzi – hardly a stretch either – for whom Mitchell begins working as a security guard. They fall for each other, while Mitchell and Gant fall out and the plot falls apart. Sundry other characters and sub-plots pass through – a revenge line here, some family bother there – while the film creeps along interminably, going nowhere very slowly. As tremendously dull as it is derivative, and not half as stylish as it thinks it is.
National Theatre, Olivier
THE NATIONAL Theatre production of Fela! is so high-energy and exuberant it seems churlish to pick holes in its plotting and characterisation. But, yes, the storyline is muddled and insubstantial and the script is perfunctory at best. But so what? It’s almost impossible not to be swept along by its relentless dynamism and immensely talented cast of singers, dancers and musicians, led with ferocious charm by Sahr Ngaujah as the legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti.
The Olivier Theatre, decked out in ostentatious style as Kuti’s Lagos nightclub The Shrine, has never seemed so lively, and despite the slightly stiff audience participation (a bit of creaky gyration), it was evident from the whoops and cheers that Fela had won over the crowd.
That’s what the show intends to do, and whining about its hagiographic slant is to miss the point: this is very clearly Fela’s world, from the constant punchy Afrobeat rhythm to the exuberant rump-shaking. What a cure for the winter blues.