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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Blogging the Hulu Plus Criterion Collection: The American Soldier

The American Soldier

This is another Rainer Werner Fassbinder film but frankly it's no where near as good as Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. The American Soldier is an earlier film by Fassbinder and while it has some interesting moments it also has some big flaws. Above all it lacks the vulnerable humanity of Ali.

The American Soldier is a noir thriller set in Germany. Ricky, a German who immigrated to America and served in Vietnam returns to Germany as an assassin. He's been hired by some corrupt cops to kill various people. The cops have no intention of paying Ricky at the end and that leads to a climactic final scene. The plot is pretty standard but there are some nice touches. The people Ricky kills don't seem that violent. They are identified as gypsies and homosexuals. Since this is Germany there are uncomfortable echoes of the Nazis.

Ricky isn't a hard guy to like, he's impossible to like. This is established from his first scene where, shades of Grand Theft Auto, he kicks a prostitute out of his car and shoots her, thankfully with blanks. He goes about his job with no emotion. His final target is the woman he's been sleeping with and kills her. It was meant to be a badass scene but instead it just comes off as sad.

There are some major flaws in this film and one of them is the slow pace. Things move glacially in this story starting with the opening scene. That might not matter but the film also keeps the audience at arm's length. The characters are either emotionless like Ricky or they are so over the top in their emotions they border on farce. In one scene a woman stabs herself in the gut and the other characters completely ignore her. This is a far cry from Ali, where everything was emotionally alive and the characters sucked in the audience with their humanity. This looks like Fassbinder was trying for the more cerebral, art house crowd. Thankfully he developed another storytelling style.

There are some incredible scenes however. There are several scenes that follow a moving car throughout the city. There's an interesting scene where a maid breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience a story...while Ricky and his girlfriend make love in the background. Interestingly the maid's story is the plot to Fear Eats the Soul though with a different ending. Fassbinder obviously had that movie in his head for a long time.

The best part about this film is the third act which is, despite everything else, just a fascinating freak show. Ricky goes to see his mother and brother who are still living in Germany. They have a pinball machine right in their front parlor. And Ricky's brother has a homoerotic crush on Ricky.

The mother and brother show up at the final shootout and because of them Ricky and his friend (played by Fassbinder himself) are fatally shot. This leads to the final scene. As a pop song plays, Ricky's brother rushes done and embraces his dead body. The brother rolls around with the corpse for a good minute or more in slow motion. Meanwhile the mother stays frozen in place and doesn't react to her son's death or the insane display of grief happening right her feet. In the end it's pretty obvious that The American Soldier was a joke. It has a great punchline but lacks a good build up.

Directors can still find plenty to analyze with this film. Fassbinder is a master and even with a tiny budget he can put in some amazing shots. I wish more directors would remember that. CGI is making people lazy. The story needed a few more passes. Fassbinder is capable of so much more. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul would be the script to study.

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