105 minutes of George Clooney Frowning
by Scott Klocksin, Arts and Entertainment Editor of The Hunter Envoy
For The American, director Anton Corbijn reached for the clouds (or at least into the Western and Neorealist canons) with the aim of painting a textured, contemplative picture of a man straddling a moral precipice whose steep slopes are made of callous self-interest on the one side, and long-overdue redemption on the other.
Adapted from the novel “A Very Private Gentleman” by Martin Booth, it is the story of a lone American assassin seeking refuge in a sleepy Italian town from a botched job in Scandinavia. As Jack (George Clooney) waits for another assignment, he encounters a prostitute (Violante Placido) and a priest (Paolo Bonacelli) who seem to rattle the foundations of his solitary, rugged outlook. He makes the prostitute think he might love her. He makes the priest think he might find God.
He also makes us think we might like to find the exit of the theater.
Overly indulgent shots that linger on electric doors closing or on pieces of metal being fashioned into parts of guns, don’t elaborate in any communicable way on the rather vague themes Corbijn seems to want us to chew on. And even if we’re able eat our thematic veggies and swallow them down, this film is so fraught with clichés and you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me moments that it’ll spoil your apatite for dessert. Placido’s character utters lines on more than one occasion that could easily find more appropriate use in the opening scenes of a particularly bad porn film. Pavel (Johan Leysen), who dispatches Jack his assignments, sips whiskey from a high ball glass so we know that he’s stressed out. It all does so much to distract us from whatever substance is in the film, that we forget all about that substance after about the end of the first act (if we can even figure out when that is).
The influence of the Western in The American is palpable, with scenes that show Jack silently and solemnly arriving in town to the naked suspicion of locals. Or in scenes that bring to the fore his stubborn refusal to show any emotion other than a stoic sense of purpose. But as with many Westerns, that purpose is neither particularly noble nor is it, in and of itself, a compelling enough reason to identify with a character. Here though, there is such a pervasive poverty of imagination on the part of the director in telling us anything about Jack or his real motivations, that like the safety on one of his many guns, we pretty quickly disengage.