My admiration for George Clooney is boundless. He has taken his clout as a box-office star and used it to make films he wants to make, including Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck, fully aware that most of his Oceans 11 fans may not care for that kind of picture. I’m sure he wishes more people would come to see Michael Clayton, or even Up in the Air, but I salute him for not pandering to the lowest common denominator as long as he can.
His latest starring vehicle, The American, has only his name to sell it, and that should be enough. But the trailers and TV spots that try to position this as an action-thriller are deliberately—
—deceptive. In fact, it’s a slowly-paced, European-style mood piece, short on dialogue and action and long on atmosphere. I liked it a lot.
One might not expect Dutch director Anton Corbijn, the man behind so many high-profile music videos for U2, Metallica, and Depeche Mode, to be the ideal person to pilot this contemplative film, but he’s done a fine job, working from a thoughtful screenplay by Rowan Joffe (who makes his directorial debut this year with a remake of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock).
Clooney plays a specialist in the world of hit-men who finds he has nowhere to hide when he wants some down-time. His stone-faced boss, or liaison, in Rome sends him to a quiet Italian village with instructions to lay low, but as an American he doesn’t exactly blend in, and before long has developed relationships with a talkative priest and a beautiful prostitute (played by the stunning, frequently naked Violante Placido).
Corbijn periodically cuts to wide shots of the mountainside village or overhead views of Clooney’s car silhouetted against a vast landscape, as if to emphasize his isolation. As a man who deals in death he must always be on his guard; if he tries to lead a normal life, even for an afternoon, he is putting himself and the people around him at risk.
The American is a thoughtful, intelligent film, a good showcase for Clooney, and an eye-opening introduction to Violante Placido. If the mass moviegoing public prefers something more routine or formulaic, it’s their loss.