Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The American

Dutch music video director Anton Corbijn returns from the success of his first full length feature 'Control' with a take on the novel 'A Very Private Gentleman' starring George Clooney as a gunmaker hiding out in an Italian village. Is this 'thoughtful thriller', as Corbijn puts it, another Jason Bourne? Definitely not ...

Let's start by saying that this film isn't the action blockbuster that Focus have made it out to be. Instead it's a slow, reflective piece that works almost like a serious Lost In Translation, which can only be a good thing right? Well, not really.

Clooney plays Jack, a man who right from the first shot of him sipping on a drink while his girlfriend puts her arms around him from behind, while he stares emotionless into the middle distance, looks dead inside. He's completely detached from the world and after getting found by his enemies (why they are after him in the first place we never find out) he has to leave to set up shop again in a small Italian village. Whilst he is there he makes friends with the local priest and falls in love with a local prostitute and soon wants out of the game. That's the whole film, apart from the opening action, a small chase scene halfway through and the end, that's all the action you're going to get. Boring? Well, yes and no.

What Corbijn has done here is taken Clooney's paranoia and brought us into it. Through the score, the shots, the look and the general silence (it feels like hardly a word is uttered throughout the film), we start questioning what's around the corner, if anyone can ever be trusted and a mere shadow makes us just as tense as Jack. The way this feeling of suspense effortlessly glides from character to the audience is a masterful stroke in itself, but with all the suspense in the world even the master himself Hitchcock knew you have to give the audience a pay off, and The American just doesn't do it enough. It might build things up, but the audience's confidence in Jack means that there's no situation we feel he cannot control and so the tension can only work to a certain degree. However, the constant turning of one's head and lack of trust is an important concept that you can imagine all these spy thriller heroes would have to go through. It looks lonely and exhausting and, as we know from the off, Jack is no hero either.

It's also interesting how it's called The American. His lack of trust and paranoia is something that could be said of the country's social mentality post 9/11, but also how he feels isolated outside of his natural habitat - as if America feels cut off from the rest of the world and how, in some ways, it is. I don't think it's just by chance that he deals arms and is ex-military either. I'd also argue that the whole world he's living in is his own Hell, which is even suggested by the priest at one point. There's a lot of talk of religion, of cleansing sins, of hope and despair and the ultimate trial of opening up to someone and falling in love. All the while he's making deals with the devil for monetary gain and has, in theory, sold his soul.

It's a film that is more about what's not being said than by what is. Little looks, turns of heads and the use of light indicate a director who knows exactly what he wants and the framing and cinematography in general is beautiful. Every shot is like a perfect picture and cannot be faulted, you can see why this man is one of the best photographers out there. However, I can't help but feel that this should have been an art-house film with perhaps an unknown in the lead. Not that there's anything wrong with Clooney, in fact all the acting in this is superb, but the expectation of this being a Clooney spy thriller means that it becomes a disappointment for a lot of people. It's a slow-paced, suggestive tale of one man trying to reach out to others and would have been better off without being touched by Hollywood. Had this have been advertised as a slow, emotive, indie art-house foreign flick (whatever that means anymore) I would have liked it more. As it is, it feels like a pretentious, yet beautiful, sequence of images that is more about scoring credibility for all involved rather than entertaining the audience. If people say they loved it, it's more likely because they feel they have to. It's a good, quiet, sombre film that jogs along and keeps you guessing, but essentially it was a bit boring.

Rating: 6/10

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