Wednesday, 13 March 2019

American Job (1996) Chris Smith

There may be no such thing as a "perfect film," but for my money Chris Smith's American Job, in terms of execution and achievement of ambition, came closer than any other 1997 film. (We'll overlook the fact that it was really made in 1995, and hasn't yet benefited from proper distribution channels. It appeared with three other films, including The Delicate Art of the Rifle, as part of the Fuel Film Tour at Facets in October.) American Job is a stunningly brilliant look at a milieu that most of us have at one time or another flirted with: the minimum-wage job. Feeling at times almost like a documentary, American Job so acutely captures the environment and its people that it transcends its apparent light-hearted surface, and becomes a profound commentary on and a testament to those individuals permanently bound to the lifestyle (of which the filmmakers themselves have confessed to being a part).

Benefiting from assured direction and expert editing, the film also features one of the most apt performances of the year by Randy Russell, who also co-authored the screenplay. As the passive, aimless, ambitionless Randy, drifting from job to job to job, Russell's deadpan-yet-amiable performance is, like the film itself, as close to perfection as I can imagine. It's been four months since I saw the film (twice, two days apart), and I still vividly recall it, almost better than the film I saw earlier today, actually. And the ending--quiet, understated, perfect--resonates whenever I walk out of a convenience store or fast-food restaurant.

Intended as a deadpan, grimly comic look at the bleakness of a minimum-wage life, American Job excessively straightjackets itself dramatically and thematically to push beyond superficial observations. A sort of mock staged version of a Frederick Wiseman documentary, with extended real-time footage of dull jobs being listlessly performed, pic is content to make its one major point without deepening it along the way...The soulless, depersonalized, unrewarding nature of most jobs is scarcely a new theme, and producer/director/co-writer/cameraman/editor Chris Smith has put himself out on a limb by choosing to focus on one dull fellow as he makes the rounds of interviews and takes a succession of menial positions, one more depressing than the last.Like Wiseman at his best, Smith clearly intends some subversive commentary on the nature of work, life and the structure of society, but pic's cutting edge simply isn't sharp enough to sustain a full-length work...Young, impressionable audiences may feel that the film says something profound about the hollowness of the American way of life, but pic's one-note approach and lack of analysis keep its commentary on an obvious level, despite the sporadic amusement value. Tech credits are basic but appropriate to the undertaking. - Todd McCarthy, Variety (excerpted)

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