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These days it's rare to come across a finely crafted film that plays
every character -- and literally every moment of every scene -- with an
uncompromising integrity. Instead of the usual attempt to make a
marketable product that pulls the right demographic -- or pushes
everyone's buttons -- or simply puts as many of the masses into the
seats as possible, writer Alex Metcalf and director William Olsson
follow their very resonant characters into the story generated quite
naturally by these delicately entangled lives. Yes, there are elements
of "coming of age", of "cloak and dagger", of "erotic thriller", etc.
-- but it isn't really any of those. Like all really outstanding motion
pictures, this film belongs to itself -- is its own category.
Setting fictional characters into a piece of well-known history is in itself a major film-making challenge and not without its pitfalls. But there isn't a single false step here as Olsson juggles fact and fiction with seamless precision, managing to keep all the balls in the air. "An American Affair' is a quiet movie ... taking its time ... allowing you savor every sweet and sour moment. The music is minimal -- yet superbly appropriate and authentic to period. Never showy, the thoughtful camera work serves the characters and content very, very well.
The performances are uniformly excellent -- with Gretchen Mol turning in a truly memorable tour-de-force portrayal of this complex, conflicted young woman. The erotic scenes are never overplayed -- they're tangible -- real. This is genuine eroticism -- not the showbiz kind. She plays the total woman at all times and yet retains that elusive air ... a lingering mystique. Can we -- can anyone -- really know her? We savor each tiny revelation that emerges through her many moods -- playful, seductive, cynical, childlike, creative, materialistic, conscientious, free-spirited, controlling, generous, vulnerable, self-serving. Mol plays every resonant note to absolute perfection and it's the key to making this film so unforgettable.
This is the kind of movie that stays with you long after the lights come up. Hard to believe it's Olsson's first feature length film -- and it's made in the English language for North America's convenience! We have a lot to look forward to from this wonderful new addition to the world's motion picture auteurs.
Some of the reviewers here obviously have never heard of, or read a
book of, historical fiction. This movie did not begin with "True
Story". Hence why expect it to be? Indeed, if a film about historical
events was 100% accurate it would be so boring we'd then complain about
Gretchen Mol did a superb job as usual. I first saw her in "Forever Mine". If she gets the right part she always delivers. The part of the young man was also well done. It is difficult to give much info without spoiling the plot. It has drama, romance and tragedy. All well done; the components of good movies. So watch it for yourself. And don't try to make historical comparisons as you do. That's not what this movie is about.
Most of the bad reviews here come from those who did not see the typical Hollywood template film they expected. There are no Quentin Tarantino type influences here. It's not the typical American type template that has won the US only 5 Palm D Ors in drama at Cannes in the last 25 years even though we've put out tens of thousands of films! Yes if you expect the usual steamy sex, filthy talk, things blowing up, chase scenes, gun battles and bloody gore-filled murder scenes you will be disappointed.
Sadly, there are few American made movies worth the time or expense at a cinema these days but this is one of them. You get to have your cake and eat it too.
Written by Alex Metcalf and directed by William Olsson, "An American
Affair" at least earns points for originality. For what starts out as a
fairly conventional coming-of-age tale set in 1963 Washington D.C.
suddenly turns into a piece of historical fiction when the obligatory
older woman 13-year-old Adam Stafford (Cameron Bright) falls madly in
love with turns out to be none other than the mistress of President
John F. Kennedy himself. Thus, not only is Adam introduced to the
wonderful world of raging hormones but to the sociopolitical issues of
the day as well.
Adam is the son of two journalists who have no clue their child has been peeping into the home across the way, enjoying a full-court view of Catherine Caswell (nicely played by Gretchen Mol), a glamorous divorcée and ex-CIA agent guaranteed to get any healthy young American lad's juices flowing. When Adam introduces himself to her, Catherine hires him on as a gardener, a setup that gives the youngster plenty of opportunity to not only make his move on this prospective conquest but, thanks to her uniquely complicated social life, to have a special behind-the-scenes glimpse into a bit of juicy, albeit undocumented, political history.
"An American Affair" throws so many disparate elements into the mix - May/December romance (or maybe more like February/August), lurid political melodrama, adolescent wish-fulfillment, cloak-and-dagger espionage, conspiracy-theory speculation - that it can't help but generate a certain fascination, even when the story itself is not all that convincing or the passion for the subject not everything it could be (this applies mainly to the first half).
All the "Summer of '42" stuff is, ultimately, far less compelling than the political details of the period, steeped as they are in Kennedy-era glamour and paranoia, with larger-than-life figures acting out a torrid little soap opera in the foreground, while shadowy figures (mainly Cubans and CIA agents) skulk around in the background. The scenes surrounding the assassination are treated with subtlety and restraint, making them all the more heartbreaking and poignant for those in the audience who lived through the experience. In fact, the whole last half hour of the film achieves a haunting sadness that finally penetrates to the very marrow of one's bones.
The movie certainly won't solve the puzzle as to "Who killed JFK?," but it has some fun trying to piece it all together.
To me this film is essentially your average made-for-TV production that
isn't really memorable in one way or another. I'm not going to go into
the acting, direction or overall plausibility of the storyline as other
reviewers have except to say that this movie is basically a telling of
the real life relationship between President John F. Kennedy and a
Washington socialite named Mary Pinchot Meyer.
Meyer had been introduced to Kennedy some years back through various acquaintances, namely Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post fame who at that time was a reporter for Newsweek magazine and Bradlee was in fact married to Mary's sister, Tony. Mary Meyer had in fact been married to a CIA operative named Cord Meyer who as portrayed in this movie was once the idealistic and now cynical and alcoholic ex-husband still looking for a chance to reunite with his wife. Mary was also indeed an exceptionally attractive woman in her day and was artistic as depicted in this film by Gretchen Mol's character. The existence of a diary detailing the nature of the relationship with Kennedy was very much real in 1963-1964 for Mary Meyer and upon her death nearly a year after Kennedy was assassinated, CIA operatives were intent on retrieving the diary for the potentially explosive information it contained not only about the affair but also on Agency operations with a view to the idea that JFK shared secrets with Meyer that may have ultimately resulted in his assassination.
The plot of 'An American Affair' does indeed follow this real-life story nearly to the letter and the mystery surrounding Mary Meyer's death lingers today for those that believed she knew much more and indeed let on she knew who might have been responsible for the President's death. That is very much implied in this movie, but I can't help but think this could've been such a great film with a better script. It truly has all the ingredients of being a love story, political thriller and mystery wrapped up in one.
6 out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The movie centers on a woman (Gretchen Mol) who has ties to President
Kennedy and who is suspected of harboring state sensitive secrets. The
Cuban missile crisis becomes the focal point of the movie and her
ex-husband and godfather of her child are CIA operatives. Against this
backdrop, they inject an early puberty teen who spies on the woman who
is his neighbor. The teen tries to become close to his neighbor by
working on her garden. The movie was filmed in the Georgetown
neighborhood in Washington DC. The locale where the priest is shoved
down the steps in Georgetown for the Exorcist movie also is shown in
this movie. The movie has a bit of profanity, nudity, and sexuality for
the R rating.
I was raised in Washington DC and was very young when President Kennedy was assassinated. I attended inner city schools in Washington. This movie appears to have a somewhat anti-parochial school message on the film on how the teen encounters bullying on the school grounds and its depiction of the nuns who teach at the school. I attended an inner city public school and it was not as rough as it was shown for a parochial school back in the 1960s in this movie.
The movie leaves one with the message that a conspiracy was behind the Kennedy Assassination and that anyone connected to him were on a "hit list". Strangely, the movie might have even carried the plot if you deleted the teen character. The movie appeared to waffle between being a "coming of age" movie and a Kennedy conspiracy movie.
before writing this review i read some of the lessor reviews. i'm
wondering what they saw. and i wish other reviewers would stick to
their thoughts on a movie and NOT just give another plot summary with
their opinion tacked on at the end.
in my opinion this movie is a captivating story of a woman (caswell) dealing with the loss of her child and failed marriage. she sees in (adam) a shadowy wish of what her son could be. but reality in her personal life takes control of her very existence. her being a mistress to the president is secondary to her involvement with adam.
adam has stumbled upon his own sexual desires and his school life is a jumbled mess because he is thrown into a situation where he must grow up fast; in contrast to the 'child like peers' he must associate with.
this movie is a wonderful story told in a suspenseful and at times frightening quality. the director and actors did a super job and 10 stars isn't enough to praise it!
COA=Coming of Age. It's a set and somewhat stilted genre by now, and
_An American Affair_ does little to change that. Young Adam Stafford is
isolated in the all-too-predictable World He Never Made: parochial
school, iconic period parents cloaked in gray clothes and rote
emotions, and females constantly pushing him away for no clear reason.
We get the sense Adam's supposed to be Somehow Special - maybe because
he's an only child, maybe because he's the big-eyed, callow, Pure Boy -
but he's really just inert, a force to be acted upon by the grown-up
Gretchen Mol's Catherine is really the only flame of real humanity in the film, the only one not acting out a role of someone acting out a role. The actor who brought Betty Page back to life a few years ago had matured fascinatingly since her days as a pretty bauble. Now we see her without the black wig and fetish gear, and she's a real presence. Her role as Sexy Bourgeoise Bohemienne is contrived - cool jazz, drugs, and a patently silly finger-paint ballet with Adam - but she has a genuine emotional vulnerability that most of the film lacks.
The subplot of neighbor Catherine's involvement with Jack Kennedy - who apparently will talk to the CIA only through her - is not well integrated. As a result, it feels obligatory, as if it's there to beef up the COA story (and perhaps add a little commercial zing). It does provide a counter-irritant to Catherine's sensuality in Lucien and Catherine's ex Graham, the Agency men easily reduced to masculine role-icons. Lucien is so buttoned up he seems almost deliberately awkward, and Graham taking what we're supposed to believe are the only outlets from his masculine role - drinking and rage towards Catherine.
Director Olsson is, of course, working with archetypes - Cold War Washington folk - but he never lets them get beyond their icon status. Particularly telling is his handling of the JFK assassination moment - the parochial school kids left to stand pointlessly in line as all the sisters gather at the television. The news is spread only by Adam, the special boy, who whispers to the pupils - and a silent overhead shot as they scatter like birds in a Paris park. Again, a dance of roles and distance, too stylized by half.
Here's a hint, Mr. Olsson: Camelot wasn't so long ago that you have to play it as somber as a medieval allegory. (What does it say that _The Tudors_ had more men in crew cuts than your vision of 1963?) People - CIA men maybe excepted - did approach one another as people, and European directors often miss that American ease. Ironically, that same ease was what made John Fitzgerald Kennedy so irresistible - not just to his many feminine liaisons, but to his country and the world.
Adam is a 13 year old boy who has just discovered his sexuality. He is not so popular at school and takes a few beatings, but he at least has a prospective girlfriend; that is, until one night while perusing a Playboy magazine in his room he sees the real thing from his window, a beautiful woman semi-naked, right across the street. From that point, Adam is obsessed with this woman, Catherine. Most women would have sent him on his way for his own good, but Catherine is confused and conflicted, and she is a painter, a bohemian artist who is just ending an affair with JFK, and her ex-husband works for the CIA. She is flattered by his interest and boldness, and soon begins to really care about him. The JFK/CIA angle in this film is the weakest part of this movie; it just seems too far fetched. This film would have been just fine without that subplot. The interaction between an older woman who is trying to find herself, and the infatuation of a young boy with her made for some real interest. The ending of this movie is very touching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The scene is 1963 Washington D.C.; the Cuban Missile Crisis is barely
old news, Americans still fear the attitudes of the Russians, and the
John F. Kennedy administration is still young. The Cold War is still
frigid and the dreams of Camelot still in bloom. Thirteen-year-old Adam
Stafford(Cameron Bright)endures the plight of bullies, nuns and girls
at his Catholic school. His life finds a purpose when he spies on the
naked body of his new neighbor across the street. She's blond, she's
beautiful and young Adam is overcome with curiosity. Catherine
Caswell(Gretchen Mol)is a divorcée, an artist and a woman with a past.
Young Adam clicks pictures from his bedroom window and one night makes
a startling discovery...Catherine is having a relationship with JFK.
Against his parent's wishes, Adam and Catherine nurture a friendship
and before long find themselves in a whirling vortex of confusion and
mystery leading to the assassination of the nation's youngest
Captivating intrigue. Witty and poignant. Pasionate awaking. Also in the cast: James Rebhorn, Mark Pellegrino, Perrey Reeves and Noah Wyle. Do yourself a favor and get involved.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is especially enjoyable if you've ever taken the time to explore several Historic and Real D.C. insiders from the era. Take a look at a few names. Mary Pinchot Meyer. James Angleton. Cord Meyer. Kathryn Graham (perhaps a mere coincidence that the two main characters are Catherine and Graham). Ben Bradlee. When you explore all these real-life characters and compare to the screenplay a clearer picture develops regarding the muddled plot lines described in other reviews. The young boy only serves as a vehicle to expose the "facts" in an eye-witness fashion. The movie works better when viewed as an interpretation of facts on record. Artistic license many times, but a few undeniable facts find their way into the story as well. Enjoy this movie. It makes you think.
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