Judge Christopher Kulik would rather have an affair with Gretchen Mol than Marilyn Monroe.
What would you do for your country?
Since Oliver Stone unleashed his three-hour epic JFK back in 1991, few films have revolved around Kennedy and his administration. The last one I can remember is Thirteen Days, dramatizing the President's actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Other films may have revolved around JFK in a more than superficial sense, although few are as forgettable as An American Affair. Barely released theatrically, the film arrives on DVD courtesy of Screen Media.
Washington, DC, 1963. Thirteen-year-old Adam Stafford (Cameron Bright, X-Men: The Last Stand) is dealing with puberty, hormones and JFK worship. He attends a Catholic school, but doesn't give a damn about his education, almost as much as he doesn't give a damn about the religious environment he's been forced into. His parents are both journalists and seem to not be overly concerned about his whereabouts or actions (i.e. both know Adam masturbates in the bathroom on a daily basis). Soon, Adam's mundane existence is shaken when he spots the luminous Catherine Caswell (Gretchen Mol, The Notorious Bettie Page) across the street.
Transfixed and smitten, Adam boldly approaches Catherine and offers to do some work in her garden so he can get to know her better. Catherine accepts, but Adam's parents have reservations about their son working for a woman who "sees the world differently than them." However, Adam's growing interest in Catherine leads him to take pictures of her and watch her through his window at night. On one such night, Adam finally sees Catherine's lover: the President of the United States! Little does Adam realize this is one of many conspiracies Catherine is embroiled in, with CIA agent Lucian Carver (James Rebhorn, Head Of State) and her shady ex-husband Graham (Mark Pellegrino, National Treasure) rounding out the game players.
Two things drew me to An American Affair. One is Gretchen Mol, who I will get back to in a moment. The second thing is I'm a sucker for period pictures and, even if I've read and heard enough about JFK conspiracies, this one looked as if it offered a fresh point-of-view of the man and his legacy. Unfortunately, An American Affair switches gears and moods so often it never knows what it really wants to be. Everything feels so muddled and artificial. Alex Metcalf's dialogue is not only awful but also unrealistic; for some reason, he has all of the teenagers (including the token African-American) swear in a contemporary manner.
Obviously, the picture is mixing elements of coming-of-age dramas (a la Summer of '42) and conspiracy thrillers. Contrivances and clichés eventually overtake the proceedings, however, resulting in a clumsy effort laced with preposterous revisionist history. While it's true JFK had affairs, it's difficult to believe a mistress would be able to call the Oval Office directly, give a name, and not be questioned as to the nature of the call. Or how about the notion that the President goes to an apartment every other night, never being spotted? Then there is a moronic subplot involving an "angry Cuban." Trust me, the cars, clothes, and Playboy magazine may be appropriately vintage, but practically everything else here is inauthentic.
The film's chief asset is Gretchen Mol, who I firmly believe is one of the most underrated actresses to emerge in the past decade. Boasting as much talent as contemporaries Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman, it's a mystery as to why she isn't treated with the same prestige. Ever since I discovered her in Rounders back in 1998, I've kept an eye out for her, no matter how small the part. In 2005, she was finally given a starring role—as the title character in The Notorious Bettie Page—giving a performance robbed of an Oscar nomination. Tantalizing, intoxicating, and always intriguing, Mol can inject life and humanity into any role; Catherine Caswell is a perfect example. She lights up the screen in every scene, despite the fact the character is underwritten and given occasionally trite dialogue. The supporting cast unfortunately suffers due to the writer's incompetence in terms of character development and behavior.
Screen Media's DVD presentation is nothing to shout about. The 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation is quite clean, but lacks spark and dimension. The colors are not as bright as one would prefer, either. Dialogue and Dustin O'Halloran's hokey piano score sound perfectly fine in the 5.1 Surround track. Optional Spanish subtitles are provided. Extras are limited to three deleted scenes; there's no "play-all" option and total runtime is approximately six minutes.
Mol is free to go for her spirited performance. The movie is found guilty of
being bad history and even worse entertainment.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Screen Media Films
• Deleted Scenes
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