Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Herr Wozzeck's Pit Fight: "The American" Vs. "The Town"

Hello, all, and welcome to our first pit fight!

So yeah, I just came up with this segment. So what is a pit fight? Well, I pit two movies against each other, see what happens. It might be a new release, or it might not be. Either way, it'll be an interesting perspective to see what we can come up with. And as you guessed, it's all in a vote to see which one is better, based on the points of story, characters, acting, material, and a random category based on what we're looking at.

So let's get started with our first pit fight!

The American Vs. The Town

Round 1: Story

Okay, so here's where the similarities between The American and The Town are had; both are about criminals in a part of the world that do things, while they're going about doing crime-filled activities. Whereas The American had very little plot to speak of, The Town had quite a tense narrative. It has a narrative with more going on, and with a greater focus on how the decisions of its characters affect the plot as a whole. One might say that in this realm, The Town would automatically win out.

This... is where you'd be wrong. For towards the end, The Town's story seems to eventually lead to an action climax, as mandated by Hollywood studios for some reason. As a result, it feels a little cheap, although it doesn't detract from what happened before. The American doesn't have this problem; the ending is less action-packed, but doesn't feel such that one gets the feeling the action climax was shoehorned in. So while not much happens in that movie, it's got a much stronger ending. And that's important as far as storytelling goes, as an ending needs to tie up all the loose ends without feeling cheap.

But still, on an overall story level, both movies keep the tension high through differing methods. The one derives it from how much is told, and the other derives it from how little is told. So really, who's the bigger winner here? I say nobody, really; the plots of both movies are good in their own ways. So I say this is a tie...

Winner: Both

Round 2: Characters

In this affair, I firmly believe The American wins out. Yes, we come to care about the characters in The Town as people, and we want to see them work their way out. And we especially care for them when things look to be falling apart for everyone. But, a two-dimensional FBI agent doesn't help in this regard, especially when the bodies start dropping. And there are too many characters, such that a couple others feel like cardboard cut-outs.

In The American, meanwhile, we get a better sense of character development, mostly because they concentrate only on George Clooney's character. It's surprising how much depth can be gathered about the other characters from only concentrating on one of them, but that's the way it is with this movie. We feel suspicious of other characters according to how Jack feels suspicious of them, and all the while it gives a look into Jack's own soul and how he looks at everyone around him. There are numerous other reasons why this movie is stronger in terms of characters, but those are for reasons that will be exposited below. And for this, The American overall has stronger characters.

Winner: The American

Round 3: Acting

On both counts, the acting is great. That much, I can tell you for sure. The American benefits from casting George Clooney (who's good in just about everything he does), but the choice to cast a bunch of Italian unknowns into the supporting roles is also a very good casting decision as it lends a certain believability to their performances. The Town, meanwhile, holds weight on its star casting (Ben Affleck being chief among them, along with Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner). Said stars do a great job with their material, though, so it's a non-issue really. (Plus, that's a major discredit to George Clooney, so yeah.) So both have their strong points, and it's quite tough to figure out which film is better in this regard.

On this count... I think I'll have to give it to The Town, though, on the principle that the actors have to do a lot more with what they've got. The American's minimalist approach does wonders for its character study of George Clooney's character, but there's not that much emotion, even if it is part of the point. The Town packs a lot more emotions into its running time, and the actors have to emote on a greater range than George Clooney had to throughout the running time of his movie. And since they do a great job on this, I'll give the point to The Town.

Winner: The Town

Round 4: Material

Speaking of more stuff to do, The Town also has a lot more things going on than The American. This is present in the script of both; there are very long stretches of silence in The American, along with some shots of mundanity that a lot of viewers might find off-putting. The Town, meanwhile, can be summarized as three bank heists with action scenes and a whole bucketload of crime drama. And since The Town has a lot more to do, you'd think that its character development would be stronger thanks to how much more material it has to work with.

On this, I call the 'less is more' card. Sure, The American doesn't have all that much going on, but it's all in the subtle stuff that's noticed. We never learn where from America Jack is, or why he doesn't just go back to America, for instance. Somehow, it adds to the mystique of the character, and reinforces something that I'll touch on in Round 5. As well, the conclusion of the film comes as an inevitability, and we can't see it ending any other way. The Town doesn't have that luxury, unfortunately. And given that there are a couple of cut-outs and a couple of standouts in The Town instead of the richly developed characters found in The American, the fact that The American works on having less gives it a major edge.

Winner: The American

Round 5: Use of Locations

Okay, so round 5 is on locations. Why? Both movies are affairs that couldn't conceivably take place anywhere else in the world without losing something; The American wouldn't quite be the same if it didn't take place somewhere in Italy, and there's no way in hell you could take The Town outside of the city of Boston.

So for The Town, we have the fact that the thing is set up in Charlestown. This is important, as stated in an opening narration block which states that bank robbers in Boston typically set up shop in Charlestown. As well, it's tough to envision the final heist taking place anywhere else but Fenway Park. The rest of it... is variable, if you want to be perfectly honest. It's not as big a deal that it takes place in Charlestown as Ben Affleck would have you believe. Sure, it helps on a plot level, but on other things? Not so much; the drama is purely with the characters and their decisions, and while they may be influenced by being set in Boston it's not as deep as you'd think.

As for The American? Well... that too is variable, as it could take place anywhere else in the world. But... the option of picking Italy for setting the place actually plays right into the character study that it is. It's arguable that the American being in Italy is symbolic of the fact that the assassin is an outsider from the rest of society. The rest of the movie backs it up nicely, given that he's always wary of other people (he even contemplates pulling a gun on a prostitute he's falling in love with because she keeps a gun in her own purse to defend herself from something that's mentioned in passing a few times), and the only people he forms any friendships with are those people that can speak English. The fact that it takes place in a mountain town with twisty roads also helps the rare action scene, as the locations help build suspense.

So for symbolism, The American wins out.

Winner: The American

General Winner: The American, though The Town put up a good fight.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

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