Review: The American
George Clooney delivers an uncharacteristically subdued performance in The American, which happens to boast the coolest poster in a very long time. I’ve always seen Clooney as a charismatic and classy throwback to the leading men of past generations, and this is the type of role I could easily have seen going to Cary Grant in the ’50s or Robert Redford in the late ’70s. The man clearly respects his profession and his predecessors, and I’m not hesitant to say this is his best performance yet.
For as good as Clooney is, director Anton Corbijn is more infatuated with the scenery than the subject. The American is as beautifully shot as one could expect from the director and cinematographer (Martin Ruhe) of Control, the stunning black-and-white biopic of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, but if I wanted to look at landscapes and architecture I’d buy a fucking calendar. The American has the feel of a 20 minute short filled with just enough unnecessary shots and overlong scenes to stretch its thin plot line long enough to pass it off as a feature.
That plot, which is another one of those dreaded “last day on the job” stories, follows an assassin (Clooney) on a working vacation in Italy as he crafts a specialized weapon for a beautiful fellow assassin (Irina Bjorklund). If there’s one thing I learned from the thousands of movies I’ve watched, it’s that I’m calling in sick for my last day of work.
There is always someone mysteriously lurking behind Clooney, and his only safe haven comes in the form of a prostitute played by Violante Placido. We see Clooney do a double take at every woman who walks by, but this is the only woman he ever initiates any sort of contact with. He’s simply a miserable man and I never bought into their relationship as anything more than an easy escape for a lonely hitman.
Corbijn is more concerned with mood than excitement, and he does an admirable job of creating a state of intense paranoia. But when the proverbial knife finally comes along to cut this tension it happens in such a predictable manner that we’re left wondering what took it so long to get there.