George Clooney, Violante Placido
The American is a slow paced and achingly beautiful thriller which sets itself up brilliantly for an oblique and meditative look take on the assassin genre, then takes a u-turn into generic territory.In Short:
Director Anton Corbjin worked on music videos for artists like Metallica, Depeche Mode and Nirvana before helming his first feature, Control, in 2007. That film sprang from his early experiences taking photographs of Joy Division in the late 70s and its clear he’s brought those artistic sensibilities to The American. Every shot is expertly framed and the images are laden with amber light and an exquisite sense of architecture. As a window into Jack’s subjective world, shots often have an extremely small depth of field and there’s an incredible sense of depth to the images, without the need for 3D glasses.
Much of The American is about texture rather than story, with long scenes dedicated to the creation of a rifle and the skill of Jack’s hands. Sound is just as important, the clink of metal and tools, Jack’s footsteps as he traverses the convoluted architecture of the town and the occasional burst from a silenced weapon. Dialogue is minimal, though pleasantly shifts from English to Italian and back again with an air of authenticity that American filmmakers rarely capture.
The film has a unique rhythm, retreating from an opening action salvo to a more considered pace, with intrigue and paranoia injected at intervals through the introduction of the character of Ingrid (a captivating Irina Björklund) and balanced out with regular visits to a local brothel and the arms of Clara (Placido). Jack asks the woman not to act for him, he of all people knows the nature of a mercenary exchange. Later, the pace naturally accelerates again in preparation for the violent finale.
And this is where The American lost my attention, changing from a unique perspective on the genre to an utterly formulaic retread of everything we’ve come to expect from hitmen movies. It all starts with a blatant moment where the previously restricted narrative splinters for an omniscient reveal, spoiling any sense of tension or intrigue and putting the pieces in place for a typical face off finale. For a film that previously demands much patience and attention from the audience, it’s a startling betrayal, as though the filmmakers simply lost faith in the faculties of the viewer. Mexican standoffs and tired symbolism are not a fitting end to a film with this much potential.
Clooney acquits himself well, the bass rumble of his voice and taciturn persona softening subtly but not ridiculously as the film progresses. With sun glasses, rich tan and ever-present chewing gum (not to mention sidearm) he seems to be channelling elements of Steve McQueen and the fit couldn’t be better. There’s little room for other characters on screen but Björklund presents a good foil, while Placido is memorable more for her copious nudity than acting skills. Special mention has to go to Herbert Grönemeyer’s evocative score and the incredible work of cinematographer Martin Ruhe.
Mesmerising and beautiful in parts, this hitman tale becomes hopelessly generic before the end. A disappointment.