Dutch photographer turned music video director turned filmmaker Anton Corbijn returns his idyllic vision of the world to our screens this month with The American. Shot on location in rural Italy it is essentially a love song to all things beautiful about Europe and about European cinema. The title is somewhat ironic. A spy movie called The American evokes images of the excess of Hollywood and ‘pioneers’ like Michael Bay; whereas Corbijn’s movie is all about restraint, both of character and image. Every shot in the film could be taken and examined as a beautiful still image, with Corbijn channelling his portrait artist whenever Clooney is in the frame.
Throughout the film I was struck by the thought that the plot of this movie is essentially the same as In Bruges. Both focus on assassins who are forced to retreat to a picturesque town in order to lie low after a botched job. Along the way both find love and redemption and both have deliberately ambiguous endings. However whilst In Bruges explores these themes through the use of comedy and, notably, extended scenes of dialogue, The American is reticent to the point of frustration. As a result it has divided audiences between those who enjoy seeing George Clooney actively act (which I actually consider to a rare occurrence) and those who enjoy the beautiful photography and people. I, as regular readers will know, fall in to that second category.
Some of the imagery is lovely and the scenes designed to reflect the soul of a man who barely speaks are perfectly weighed. At times it is a little sluggish and a clichéd Italian priest doesn’t move things along as fast as he should. But at other times it moves like a thriller, most notably during a car/scooter chase and during the climax, a scene which, perversely, reminded me of New Moon. The film also treads ground that is extremely sensual, with Corbijn at his most confident when photographing the aging assassin and his beautiful younger lover. In this world the superficial is king and where the land is gorgeous so are the prostitutes and retiring killers.
A film for those who enjoy their thrillers slow roasted. Clooney doesn’t do much, but that’s the point of the character and, indeed, the entire film.