I am a very big fan of the action sub-genre known (to me, at least) as the “assassins slowly crumbling” film.  There are a good number of them; the best of which is easily Jean-Pierre Mellville’s Le Samourai, though Michael Mann’s Collateral is an excellent recent example.  They generally involve an assassin who is a consummate professional and at the very top of his field.  Through the course of the film he gets involved in a situation that causes him to rethink his position in some way, oftentimes involving a moral crisis or maybe just a simple human connection.  Whether they be a doom-laden thriller (Le Samourai, The American), a more straight-forward actioner (Leon, Collateral) or a light-hearted romp (Grosse Point Blank), the plot device that sparks their change usually triggers an existential crisis that’s been building for some time.  The trade-off for being a cold, effective killer is the denial of personal connections and a life that we in society generally deem to be fulfilling.  Though they make a lot of money they rarely spend it, preferring a low-key, basic existence.  Being good at their trade is enough for them, or so they assume.  Personal connections compromise their abilities to do their job, and when they finally achieve them they generally die – oftentimes while trying to do the ‘right’ thing.  In many ways, this is due to the basic moral conventions of Hollywood, even if the film was made outside of the system or even the country.  We must be able to empathize with the main character in some fashion, and whether he gives up his lifestyle or dies having learned a Great Life Lesson, standard Western morality always wins out.  There are ways in which the genre can challenge these morals, but by and large achieving them is the engine for the film.  Read the rest of this entry »

With the rebirth of scripted television and the rise of original cable programming came the need for networks to establish an identity to rope in new viewers.  Gone were the days of four broadcast networks wheeling out their new shows over the course of a month and people picking and choosing; original programming is now year-round and there are a lot more outlets to choose from.  As such, cable networks have developed brand identities in the hopes of building a core audience of faithful viewers who are always willing to check out their new shows because they have certain expectations.  FX is largely male-oriented and ‘edgy’, HBO is high-quality content for the discerning viewer, USA is light entertainments, and TNT hews closer to broadcast drama procedurals.  AMC has been in the original series game for five years now, and off the back of Mad Men and Breaking Bad, they’ve gained enough critical acclaim (and the awards that go with it) to see themselves as the only true rival for HBO’s high-quality crown.  The idea, I think, is to not have any particular genre niche to cater to, but rather to create and maintain a stock of exceptionally good shows that anybody who likes good TV can tune into and enjoy.  Their biggest hit to date, The Walking Dead, complicates this, of course, as it is a fairly mediocre show that doesn’t transcend its zombie trappings at all, but like HBO and True Blood, AMC won’t complain about a hugely successful money maker.  The Killing, based on the acclaimed Danish series Forbrydelsen, on the other hand, is clearly attempting to rise above its crime genre roots and become The Next Great Thing.  At that it fails miserably, but for reasons that go beyond simple execution.  Read the rest of this entry »