Director: Anton Corbijn
The poster for The American would seem to promise the viewer another gun-toting action movie, but the reality of George Clooney’s latest is quite different. The American is essentially an inaction movie and one that is none-the-poorer for it. Photographer Anton Corbijn’s follow-up to his debut, Control, is the anti-Bourne. Much more European art house than American blockbuster, the movie focuses on lone assassin Jack as he hides out from unknown pursuers in a small Italian village, Castel Del Monte. Quietly deciding that it’s time to retire, he befriends the local priest, becomes engaged in a tentative relationship with prostitute Clara and busies himself preparing a rifle for female assassin, Mathilde. However, his pursuers, and possibly his boss, have different plans for him.
The American is a strange proposition in that this a character study of a man with little definable character. Jack is more a collection of past deeds than a person, and the movie bravely opens with a scene that may leave many with no sympathy for the man at all. Clooney successfully muffles the natural charm which has been his bread and butter, and delivers a brilliantly understated performance which only gives the merest hints of who he is. Remote, silent and expressionless, Jack is a shadow. There are flashes of guilt and conscience, but Jack isn’t really seeking redemption. He’s lonely and just doesn’t want to do this anymore. After all, he’s perfectly content to build a weapon so someone else can kill. And if the outcome seems obvious it doesn’t matter. The American is about the journey rather than the destination.
As you would expect from a movie directed by a photographer, The American looks gorgeous. The film has a wonderful Italian sensibility; the locations are stunning, the women voluptuous and Clooney spends half the movie sitting in coffee shops. The pacing is languid, spreading its spare story thinly and inviting you to seek out the details. Even the single action scene is short and rather relaxed by American standards.
The American is not for those who enjoy bang for their buck, or tidily resolved narratives with moral convictions. It doesn’t answer all the questions, nor explain all the details. It simply absorbs through mood, image and a solid central performance from Clooney. The American II is not on the horizon. These things make the movie something of a welcome breath of fresh air.