Thursday, September 2, 2010

The American In Bruges:

Spoilers ahead!

After I watched The American, I made an offhand observation to a friend: the movie reminded me of 2008's In Bruges. I didn't seriously consider the similarities, but the observation stuck with me as I was driving home. Note: I haven't seen In Bruges in over a year, so I've refreshed my memory with several online sites: Wikipedia, IMDB, etc.; similarly, I've only seen The American once, so I've used the aforesaid sites to sort out any details I may have missed/forgotten. Anyway, the [haphazardly listed] similarities:

First, the plot; The American [as I understand it] follows the same general plot as In Bruges: an assassin ["Jack" and Ray, respectively] makes a mistake, and his boss sends him on a "vacation" while secretly scheming to have him killed. In both cases, the mistake is collateral damage: in The American, Jack has been "making friends", and those friends have been getting killed; in the opening sequence [the only explicit "mistake", but the boss implies that this has happened before], Jack kills his "friend" when she witnesses his murderous response to a failed attempt against his life: "She knows too much", etc. Note: the aforementioned mistakes haunt their respective assassins.

In both films, the boss sends the assassin to an idyllic locale, and the locale is viewed through a travelogue lens; architecture is in the forefront: In Bruges with its medieval structures, The American with its nautilus shell city.

In both films, the assassin's would-be murderer* is a confidant[e]: The American's would-be murderer doesn't have the same emotional connection with the target as In Bruges' would-be murderer [any connection isn't reciprocated, anyway]; however, to the extent that Jack is able to maintain personal relationships, his would-be murderer is "close" to him.

In both films, the assassin befriends a nonviolent arbitrator native to the locale: the hotel operator Marie [In Bruges], and Father Benedetto [The American]; both arbitrators support the assassin to an extent, but neither "joins" the assassin.

In Bruges' Chloe and The American's Clara [the love interests] make for the most obvious similarity: both are in negative occupations [risky drug dealing and prostitution, respectively]; both have negative relationships with men [an abusive boyfriend and "Johns", respectively]; and both hope to use their respective assassin-cum-lover to escape their negative situations. A tangential similarity: in The American, the man seems out of place in the restaurant; In Bruges' Chloe seems out of place in that film's restaurant. Both films address foreignness.

In both films, the would-be murderer betrays their [and the assassin's] boss. The scenes are similar, though the event sequence is reversed: In Bruges' would-be murderer betrays his boss, and is killed; in The American, the would-be murderer is injured, and then betrays her boss before she dies. Also: would-be murderers die from a fall; interestingly, the injury incurred prior to the fall by the would-be murderer in The American is almost identical to an injury incurred by one of In Bruges' peripheral characters.

In both films, the assassin's boss arrives in the locale and attempts to murder the assassin; in both films, the assassin kills the boss [albeit indirectly in In Bruges]; in both films, the assassin is severely injured, but not killed onscreen. In both films, the assassin and the boss had maintained a relationship, though this is more pronounced in The American--speaking of which:

Jack's role in said relationship is childlike** ["What have I told you about making friends, Jack?"], and his overall curiosity is childlike. His fixation on butterflies seems innocently curious; similarly, you have the oral sex scene. I'm fascinated by it; focus on his eyes during that scene: he's curious, innocently servile... childlike--which makes the scene even more complex. Similarly, Ray is impishly childlike; again, there's that curiosity and innocent servility in the eyes--especially around Chloe.

Lastly: both films end with ethereally dreamlike, ambiguous scenes† collecting the players important to the dying assassins.††

I'm sure I'll see The American again [and again] and sporadically add to this list, but it's a start.

*Is an assassin's assassin a murderer?

**There's an interesting psychoanalysis of Jack waiting to be written.

†I'll write an analysis of the The American's ending scene.

††Only the butterfly and Clara are important to Jack; see '†'


  1. Quite a good observation. But, both movies are good enough to give a second shot..

  2. God, i searched all over the Internet to find someone who thinks the same way )
    Very nice analysis, to your list - the actress Thekla Reuten plays in both movies - Marie in "In Bruges" and Mathilde in "The American".

  3. I as well, was searching the Internet to find someone who was thinking the same thing. I saw The American for the first time last night, and the first thing that came to mind after finishing it was, In Bruges.

  4. Just saw the american - around half of the movie it struck me - its in bruges! Even the music (piano scores ets) is alike! I couldnt wait to see if someone else noticed it. Interestingly, movie is produced by focus entertainment, same company that produced in bruges. It would be great if they made more movies like this - high quality underplayed dramas with a touch of crime/mistery/erotica/weltschmerz all wrapped in beautiful melancholic soundtrack and set in a dreamlike city/country/culture... Loved the movie, although in brugEs is my favourite.