New On DVD: The American, Handsome Harry, Twelve

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(Capsule reviews by Melissa Anderson and Mark Olsen.)

The American Judging by the advertisements, The American is a fast-paced, stylish thriller starring George Clooney as a dashing, conflicted hero. Yet the actual movie is a deconstructed action picture in which not much happens (until it does). Directed by Anton Corbijn and adapted from Martin Booth's novel A Very Private Gentleman, the film stars Clooney as Jack, an occasional assassin, but more often armer of assassins, building custom firearms to exacting specifications. In quick order, Jack is flushed out of his lakeside hideaway and set on the run, landing in a remote Italian town that would be picturesque were it not so spooky.

There, Jack waits for his contact (Thekla Reuten) and becomes increasingly certain that someone is after him. By slowing down the pace of what would more conventionally be a pulse-pounding chase thriller, Corbijn successfully creates a feeling of unease. Jack is trapped in his own purgatory, and well before he meets his contact for a last handoff in a dusty parking lot, Clooney's character has given over fully to existential dread. The American becomes less about assassins and targets than about the tension between Jack's external placidity and internal tumult. Despite the director's insistence on pushing viewers away at every turn, there is nevertheless something exciting about a movie this uncompromised, in which the big change from book to screen actually toughens up the story instead of watering it down. (M.O.)

105 minutes Rated R

Handsome Harry A fixture of New York City's No Wave scene of the late '70s and early '80s--an era of prolific DIY filmmaking, when everybody seemed to be collaborating with everyone else--Bette Gordon continues her exploration of desire with Handsome Harry. A road-movie ensemble piece interrupted by Fireworks-like flashbacks, HH finds its hero (played by Jamey Sheridan) reconciling with the unpalatable notion that, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, each man maims the thing he loves. Harry, a well-liked, long-divorced middle-ager capable of only the most awkward interactions with the diner waitress who clearly wants him and the 20-ish son who's driven hundreds of miles to visit him in upstate New York, takes off suddenly for Philadelphia to visit Tom (Steve Buscemi), a dying Navy buddy. "We became men together," Tom reminisces in his hospital bed--rites of passage that torment Harry, who continues to seek out friends from the service to assuage his guilt over a heinous act of betrayal and cruelty. Each visit serves as a set piece for the particular pathologies of white midlife manhood: entitlement, repression, rage, self-pity. Gordon films every encounter--some of which droop under too much hectoring (the script is by first-timer Nicholas T. Proferes)--with a hesitant empathy, maintaining just the right tone before Harry's lushly romantic final reunion. In Gordon's films, eros's capacity to disturb and disrupt is celebrated as its greatest quality. (M.A.)

96 minutes Rated R

Twelve "Maybe you know how it is. Maybe you don't," gravely intones Kiefer Sutherland, the narrator of Joel Schumacher's silly, tone-deaf adaptation of Nick McDonell's 2002 book about entitled Upper East Side teenage twerps. Famously published when its author was only 18, Twelve the book briskly moves along with the Didion-esque disdain of an insider--material that first-time screenwriter Jordan Melamed transforms into a hand-wringing cautionary tale with a tacked-on moral lesson and visions of a dead, beatific mother. Gossip Girl's Chace Crawford stars as White Mike, a Camus-quoting prep-school dropout who refrains from using any of the substances he sells to his former classmates, narcissists who are hurting deeply because their parents go on vacation without them, reachable only by satellite phone. Though Crawford's bangs and facial hair are the most art-directed aspect of the movie, he's costumed to look like a member of the Trenchcoat Mafia (Madison Avenue branch). But White Mike is not the psychopath of the story--that would be Claude (Billy Magnussen), who has left rehab and does something very bad at a party after Mom prefers talking with his younger brother, Chris (Rory Culkin). Filthy-rich parents, remember: Your adolescent children really want to Skype with you when you're in St. Barts. (M.A.)

98 minutes Rated R

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