Meet a Guy Named Joe in the new BLADE RUNNER and a Guy Named Barry in AMERICAN MADE. “Joe,” whose Replicant name is K-something-or-other, flies around in his souped-up police car chasing rogue Replicants in a future of 2049. “Barry Seal” runs guns and drugs in his souped-up airplane in a past time of the 1980s.
Now, no one in his right mind would yoke together these two recent films in a review, but why not, say I, because I saw them both within hours of each other and darned if they don’t bounce off each other in many ways. Both men are the manufactured commodities of their culture. Their worlds are violent, noisy, and corrupt. Both men turn rogue against the very systems they work for. Joe begins as a Blade Runner on the hunt for soulless, android Replicants, but he eventually joins a resistance movement to restore human freedom to the world. Barry works with criminal south-of-the-border drug cartels and gun runners, but he winds up betraying them in sting operations. Joe gains the humanity that he has lost—at the sacrifice of his life. Barry attempts some measure of redemption in saving his family from prison but must lose his life in the process. And the loud and explosive soundtracks of both films demonstrate that worlds past and present are determined to pummel and pound us into submission.
Now AMERICAN MADE and BLADE RUNNER, to be sure, radically differ in their narrative and pacing strategies. The former moves straight ahead with dizzying speed; the latter slumps badly long before its own finish line. One is nimble on its feet; the other is one long slog. AMERICAN MADE’S director Doug Liman—whose racehorse techniques have given lots of buzz to pictures like SWINGERS, GO, and THE BOURNE IDENTITY—tracks the razzle-dazzle and hijinks of Barry’s career with whiz-bang cutting and skewed and jittery camera work. BLADE RUNNER’S director Denis Villeneuve—whose SICARIO and ARRIVAL were slow-burning meditations on politics and Otherness—mires down action and character in a swamp of static camera setups and tedious dialogue exchanges. The former cares little about Art; it never stops to think about what’s going on. The latter is everywhere consumed with Art; and it limps along, preoccupied with its own navel-gazing.
AMERICAN MADE lets the story tell itself. BLADE RUNNER fusses and frets with its story and wrestles it to the mat.
And just what is that story? It’s all about the fate of human identity in the face of encroaching conformity. BLADE RUNNER blurs the boundaries separating man from machine. AMERICAN MADE finds gangland corruption in the halls of Congress. Maybe it’s not so much a story as a condition. That the still, small voice of humanity is only a flickering flame against the onslaught of the dark.