Review by Jack Foley
THE pairing of George Clooney with Control director Anton Corbijn for hit-man thriller The American was always going to be a fascinating affair. That it rates as one of the best films in the genre is tribute to the talents of both men involved.
In many ways, The American is the antithesis of the Bourne films, so anyone anticipating a Clooney take on the fast, breathless action of the Paul Greengrass genre-definers had best think again (or you’ll be disappointed).
Rather, this is a character-driven piece, which takes its time to unfold while making maximum use of Corbijn’s eye for detail. Whereas Matt Damon’s Bourne was a man desperate to rediscover his past while being chased by his enemies, Clooney’s Jack is a man who would sooner forget his – haunted by the memories of past misdeeds and a desperate desire to get out.
Hence, Jack’s solitary existence is defined by mistrust, unease and paranoia. In many ways, friendships are his worst enemies as they only serve to fuel his insecurities.
Corbijn’s film picks up with a breathtaking set piece in Sweden, where Jack is forced into making yet more soul-destroying decisions. It then moves to Italy, where Jack is told to hide out in the village of Castel del Monte, awaiting further instructions.
While there, however, he is asked to provide a weapon for a mysterious female contact and reluctantly strikes up two more relationships: with an inquisitive priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and a beautiful local prostitute (Violante Placido), who may offer some form of redemption.
But with his enemies closing in, can Jack stay one step ahead of everyone involved and carve out a new life for himself – one of stability and trust?
Based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth, The American is, in many ways, a minimalist affair that relies on performance rather than action to drive it.
Clooney is the sole focus of attention… often left alone for moments at a time with only his thoughts and routines for company. Yet just as he did with Michael Clayton, the actor effortlessly conveys the torment and paranoia driving him.
Even his dialogue is sparse, seldom opening up to those who would dare try and find out more about the real man that lies within.
But in spite of this, exchanges with Bonacelli’s priest, Placido’s prostitute or Thekla Reuten’s fellow assassin offer fascinating insights.
Corbijn’s direction, meanwhile, slowly builds the tension, turning the beautiful environment of Italy’s Castel del Monte (its winding streets and mountain-side setting) into as much of an enemy as the people in his life.
He often frames scenes with Jack to one side, providing the viewer with the opportunity to view things from Jack’s point of view, and fuelling their own sense of paranoia… a ploy that becomes especially rewarding come the film’s tense final moments (that owe more than a passing resemblance to the work of Sergio Leone).
Admittedly, given the emotional isolation that Clooney’s character finds himself in, the film is arguably found wanting in the emotional stakes. But then that’s also kind of the point.
To be able to give in to emotion would be to surrender himself to any one moment or person. It’s the thing Jack wants… but which is almost always just out of reach.
Discovering whether it ever becomes attainable is another of the movie’s great draws.
In short, The American hits the target as one of the most intelligent and striking genre films of recent years – a clever, stylish and equally impressive counterpoint to the far more frenetic Bourne movies that also sit at the top of the genre.
Running time: 104mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: April 4, 2011