It’s not every weekend that two movies about practiced killers are new in theaters simultaneously. But that’s the situation. The American, starring George Clooney, is directed by Anton Corbijn, who has directed music videos for U2 and Depeche Mode. Machete, on the other hand, was expanded to a feature film by directors Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez, the gore slinger, after a fake trailer for it appeared in 2007’s Grindhouse. And even though the former clearly is a high-class affair, with a quiet Euro sophistication that permeates every frame, and the latter is from somewhere south of the border and is full of heat and noise and blood and boobs, you might note some similarities.
Danny Trejo plays an ex-Federale on a brutal rampage—customary for director Robert Rodriguez—to kill his old boss in Machete.
Therein lie the universal lessons of movie-hero badassery. For the double-feature of The American and Machete teaches that it doesn’t matter if you’re George Clooney or Danny Trejo. All that matters is knowing the score, getting the women and killing the bad guys. Here’s how.
Dress the part. For the renegade ex-Federale in Machete, taking aim at a hateful Texas senator (played by Robert De Niro), a leather, blade-lined vest is recommended. For the expatriate American assassin on a “working vacation” in provincial Italy in The American, use any impeccably tailored suit jacket with pockets adequate for concealing a pistol. The well-appointed badass also will consider what to drive during his occasional chase scene. If you’re Clooney, a Vespa does nicely. If Trejo, perhaps something bigger, with room to mount a Gatling gun between its handlebars.
Don’t smile, don’t say much. You are a killer, remember. Also, your soul is heavy. Perhaps you let a special person into your heart once, and then had to let that person go before you were ready. Perhaps a beheading or a point-blank gunshot was involved. In any case, stoicism will be your way forward.
Don’t trust your employer. A man hires you to commit murder. Do not expect this man to stay on top of, say, sending out 1099 forms at the end of the tax year, or valuing your life. Especially if he has steely eyes and a name like Booth (Jeff Fahey in Machete) or Pavel (Johan Leysen in The American).
Keep a man of the cloth handy—but not too close. Ideally, he should be a sinner himself. He needn’t bring you any closer to God, as redemption really isn’t your bag, but he can at least supply some comic relief. (See Paolo Bonacelli in The American, Cheech Marin in Machete.)
Let the women come to you. Machete has Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan to choose from. The American enjoys a nice picnic and some assassination shoptalk with Thekla Reuten, plus hot sex and reluctant love with a prostitute played by Violante Placido. It’s about options.
Your catchphrase conveys your authority, but cannot contain you. To be clear: There is no right Mexican to mess with, necessarily, but anybody who messes with Machete will indeed have messed with the wrong Mexican. As for the American, when he says, “I do what I’m good at,” he couldn’t be more right.