Starring: George Clooney, Paolo Bonacelli, Violante Placido, Irina Bjorklund, Thekla Reuten
Director: Anton Corbijn
Writer: Rowan Joffe, Martin Booth (novel)
Cinematography: Martin Ruhe
Original Score: Herbert Gronemeyer
Running Time: 105 mins.
Holed up in a small largely isolated Italian town, Jack is doing two things, recovering from a tragic event that unfurls in the films opening beats and resonates throughout the film, and Clooney’s character, and taking on that most clichéd of assassin films “the one last job”. Given The American is written by Rowan Joffe (he behind many an intimate Brit flick) and more pertinently directed by Anton Corbijn who last helmed Control you would be foolish to expect a whizz-bang action thriller in the mould of Bourne et al, what we get is much closer to In Bruges, without the laughs or lightness of touch but with lashings of existential angst and more importantly a touch of warmth.
It is in the warmth that the American becomes more than simply another pretentious art-house film starring a big name actor masquerading as a Hollywood thriller, indeed it is meticulously shot and beautifully realised by Corbijn tackling yet another tortured individual, (Control‘s Ian Curtis being the last) the picturesque yet stark Italian landscapes hammering home the metaphors of lonliness and a life of solitude, while the lighting is used to evoke a sense of mood (red for the brothel, glaring sunlight for times of exposure) that many will likely find it too obvious and too desperate to carve out a niche as a moody art-piece, but that is if those viewers can get beyond the plodding and rather sluggish pace.
That is not a fast paced film should not turn you away though, bear with it, revel in the vistas, and most importantly feel the empathy with Clooney’s character that Corbijn is reaching fro and you will be rewarded, this is a slow character piece first and foremost, forget the pretentious visuals if you must, and push aside any preconceptions you have about this as another Bourne-lite and you will find one of the years best performances in Clooney and his subtleties. Joffe’s script is sparse, sparse as the countryside in which the film is set, but each word counts and is meant to, characters don’t needlessly speak meaning you can simply enjoy the mood evoked through a single look, glance or stare (smiles are few and far between!).
There are many ingredients pulled from many a film, the priest for our anti-hero to confide in, the hooker with a heart, heck even the overall plot arc is as old as time itself, but these elements are interspersed with enough class and talent that it can be overlooked especially in the face of a trio of great action beats, this isn’t the action of Michael Bay or even Paul Greengrass but here each bullet counts. The opening scenes set the tone and an event that should make us struggle to empathise with Clooney’s character at the very least does quite the opposite, something not many actors could achieve successfully, likability and acting finesse rarely come hand in hand this easily, and especially in such a potentially underwhelming film.
The American seals it’s “fate” with a finale that is somewhat expected, yet thrilling none the less, the sense of immersion you will likely find in the whole film should have its pay off as Corbijn, Joffe et al risk an ending that is on one hand deeply heavy handed yet on the other hugely moving, a telling sign as to the approach The American takes in its entirety.
George Clooney IS The American, no not in the same was as Daniel Craig IS James Bond but rather without the “silver fox” this is a film that would sink in its own pretentious/clichéd approach, thankfully it manages to avoid this label and rises as a superbly acted and involving character study.