I just finished watching a most unusual movie. American Ultra. It was labeled as comedy on the Icelandair flight, though it was anything but. I don’t really know what to think about it. Yet. I just know that I had to write about it.
The premise of the film is simple, if bizarre. What if a anxiety-ridden stoner who’s constantly failing his girlfriend turns out to be a psychologically remodeled killer, with insane reflexes and abilities hidden beneath the surface?
There’s a lot more to the movie, but that’s where it starts. It’s Jason Bourne on steroids, but filmed and acted in a naturalist, low-key, gory and sometimes heartbreaking way. This isn’t high drama. This is an taking absurd scenario and letting the actors pretend it happened to you or me.
It mixed philosophy-disguised-as-conversation-had-while-high, outrageous action (“the old bullet and frying pan trick”) and moments of intimacy and emotional pain that hit me right where it hurt. I’m sure that for a lot of people, this will be a crappy movie experience, with a lot of “Really…?” episodes.
For me, it powerful and thought-provoking, even if it was also over the top and spaced out.
Was it good? I honestly don’t know.
It had some excellent actors delivering rock solid, believable, human characters. It had gritty aesthetics. It had well-choreographed fights, good pace and music that worked well. I’m still not sure I’d call it a good movie, and if it ends up being as much as suggested for an Oscar, I’ll be one very surprised Claus.
Still, it punched hard, and forced me to take it seriously even though I tried not to. It was insistent in its brutal “realism in an unreal situation”, its uncompromising harshness and its protagonists, that drew me in and wouldn’t let go.
My heart hurt a little in the beginning, and I inmediately emphasized and wanted them to get a taste of a better life. I got invested in a crazily unlikely story and saw nuance in both the heroes and the villains. I was allowed to get a glimpse of a bigger picture that was never properly explained, and I wanted to know more. At the pivotal scene at the end, I cried, and I loved the wisecracking final line, which I found both funny, illustrative and fitting.
And here, writing about it, I realise that by putting my thoughts and feelings into words (while keeping it reasonably spoiler free), I’ve answered my starting question.
I don’t know if American Ultra is a good movie.
I’m not even sure I’d recommend it.
But I know that for me, that doesn’t matter one bit. For me, it was memorable, it was moving and it was meaningful.
And ultimately, that’s what matters.
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