Herbert Grönemeyer

The American (2010, Anton Corbijn)

If someone had told me, I don’t think I would have believed Anton Corbijn got his start directing music videos. His direction of the American is so gentle and deliberate–so forcibly detached from his characters–it just doesn’t seem possible. Maybe they were all really well-directed music videos.

I hadn’t originally planned on rushing to see the American, which, it turns out, would have been a big mistake. I think the title’s meant as a joke (the source novel has a different one), because the film puts George Clooney–one of America’s most recognizable celebrities–in a completely not American film.

And Clooney’s the only American around in the film. But his presence isn’t played for comedy or irony–he even has big American ideals, though they’re never spelled out.

The film takes place over–at most–a month. It’s carefully paced, never exciting (it’s not a thriller), and extremely cautious. Think Our Man in Havana mixed with a Clouzot film, only without any humor.

And the ending works. Once it gets to the third act, it’s all brilliant, but there were a couple very bad places it could go. It goes to neither, doing something lovely and unexpected instead.

Clooney’s great–the American suggests he’s just going to get even better–and his supporting cast is wonderful. The two women, Thekla Reuten and Violante Placido, are amazing–Placido in particular. Reuten is good in a simpler role, Placido’s is rather complex.

It’s a quietly significant film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anton Corbijn; screenplay by Rowan Joffe, based on a novel by Martin Booth; director of photography, Martin Ruhe; edited by Andrew Hulme; music by Herbert Grönemeyer; production designer, Mark Digby; produced by Anne Carey, Jill Green, Ann Wingate, Grant Heslov and George Clooney; released by Focus Features.

Starring George Clooney (Jack), Violante Placido (Clara), Paolo Bonacelli (Father Benedetto), Thekla Reuten (Mathilde) and Johan Leysen (Pavel).


Das Boot (1981, Wolfgang Petersen), the uncut version

Das Boot probably has–of serious films–the most number of alternate cuts released. Besides the two and a half hour theatrical version, there was a three and a half hour director’s cut (which I saw theatrically, so I suppose I only saw the original version on VHS), and finally, now, there’s the five hour “uncut version,” which is actually just the original German miniseries. Das Boot‘s such an immersive experience, whether two and a half or four and a half, the added footage isn’t particularly perceptible. When the film started, there were a few things I noticed new, but I stopped bothering to look after the first fifteen minutes. For such a long film, it moves really fast. Quite a bit happens and the viewer is expected to keep track of a large number of characters (one of the visible changes in the longest version is the attention paid to the supporting cast).

Starting Das Boot–maybe even from the opening shot–I remembered it was an excellent film, excellent to an almost mythical degree. I’d forgotten, taken it for granted maybe. The first fifteen minutes, establishing the primary characters at an officer’s party, I also realized something tragic happened to Wolfgang Petersen. He went from making Das Boot to some of the most unwatchable–without music video editing–mainstream films of the 1990s and, presumably (since I certainly don’t see them anymore), 2000s. Fortunately, Das Boot‘s so good, I didn’t dwell for long.

Much of the film’s success is Jürgen Prochnow as the captain. There are some other excellent performances, like Otto Sander’s cameo at the beginning, and Klaus Wennemann as the chief engineer and Martin Semmelrogge as the comedy relief. The entire cast is good, but it all revolves around Prochnow and he has to be good, because it’s five hours. Even if it’s two and a half hours, not a lot happens. Das Boot chronicles the minutiae, not just of boring days at sea or of battle scenes, but also of being bored at sea. Not much else is quite as immersive.

I haven’t seen Das Boot in about nine years, since the director’s cut came out on laserdisc. I always waited for DVD, because the SuperBit version of it was supposed to be better than the regular disc (then I guess wasn’t), but finally the miniseries version came out… and I took a couple years to watch it. I’m hoping next time I won’t wait so long again.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; screenplay by Petersen, based on a novel by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Hannes Nikel; music by Klaus Doldinger; produced by Gunter Rohrbach; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jurgen Prochnow (Captain), Herbert Gronemeyer (Lieutenant Werner-Correspondent), Klaus Wennemann (Chief Engineer), Hubertus Bengsch (First Lieutenant-No. 1), Martin Semmelrogge (Second Lieutenant), Bernd Tauber (Chief Quartermaster), Erwin Leder (Johann), Martin May (Ullmann), Heinz Honig (Hinrich), U.A. Ochsen (Chief Bosun), Claude-Oliver Rudolph (Ario), Jan Fedder (Pilgrim), Ralph Richter (Frenssen), Joachim Bernhard (Preacher), Oliver Stritzel (Schwalle), Konrad Becker (Bockstiegel), Lutz Schnell (Dufte) and Martin Hemme (Bruckenwilli).


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