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LFF review: The American

October 25, 2010 by Simon Kinnear in Festivals, In Cinemas with 0 Comments

Better late than never…

The American
(Anton Corbijn, US, 2010)

Clooney’s working holiday proves light on the work; the notion that it’s hard for him to hang out and shag is a stretch, frankly

When a film is this pared down, there’s nowhere to hide from the clichés – and Anton Corbijn’s story of a hitman hiding out after a botch job is awfully familiar, from its rival assassins to a love story with the local prostitute. Such elements need the injection of wit or originality à la In Bruges, but the decision to play things straight and slow scuppers The American from the start.

Corbijn has opted for an austere Euro thriller reminiscent of Paolo Sorrentino’s The Consequences of Love or the daddy of the genre, The Day of the Jackal. A glacial pace, undescored by the Teutonic synth-wash of the soundtrack, foreshadows the methodical calm of George Clooney’s killer, a man whose ingrained watchfulness measures each moment for danger or gain, yet who apparently has no past and almost certainly no future.

It’s a good job that Corbijn gives Clooney the alibi of working as a photographer (the director’s original career) because the film is a study of photographic subjects: landscapes, roads, cars, weapons, Italian villages and – much to Clooney’s frustration – people. Try as he might to leave in anonymity and seclusion, Clooney is drawn to the locals, possibly because they’re so interesting to look at, from the wizened priest whose concern for his flock is written in deep lines across his forehead, to the heaving breasts and cherubic smile of Clara.

It’s in the latter plotline that the film strives for a profundity it can’t pull off. Clearly, the idea is that no man is an island, especially when confronted by the obvious charms of Violante Placido, but the ‘tart with a heart’ is notoriously difficult to make convincing. Yes, he’s George Clooney and yes, he goes down on her… so her attraction is understandable, but it suggests that rural Italy is full of fit, easy-going prostitutes just waiting for a wealthy silver fox to come along and sweep them off their feet.

No wonder Clooney took a producer’s credit. From his point of view this is the best kind of vanity project, one that simultaneously plays to his strengths as a virile charmer, but also stretches his screen persona. Clooney’s customary garrulousness is silenced, the wry man of action inverted…but such is his star power that he’s effortlessly commanding doing nothing more than building a gun. The set-pieces, brief though they are, have a brisk, old-school efficiency, a Zen abstraction of the Jason Bourne movies; where Matt Damon is all instinct and movement, Clooney has a cerebral, monkish patience. Ultimately, though, this is a film about downtime and a little to soporific for its own good. The net result is to suggest that it’s chiefly about the existential loneliness of being George Clooney, and the hardship of having to decamp to the Mediterranean when the day job gets too tough. Ah, bless.

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