THE AMERICAN (Dir. Anton Corbijn, 2010)
Though it is being released into many multiplexes, THE AMERICAN is very much an independent film. It’s also a bit of an artsy foreign film as it takes place largely in Italy with a lot of its dialogue being in Italian.
One obvious element that makes it appear from a distance to be a big studio film – George Clooney.
That nobody else in the film is a name doesn’t matter because Clooney is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, perhaps as Time Magazine called him “the last movie star”, and his presence gives this small indie a lot of power.
When Clooney kills 3 people before the opening credits one may think we’re in for a pulsating bloody thriller, but this film is more contemplative than that with a slow yet thoroughly engrossing pace.
We don’t get a background on Clooney – we can tell he is a trained killer who is working for sinister sources, and he wants out after finishing one last job. A mysterious Johan Leysen provides Clooney with a car and a cell-phone and tells him to await further instruction. Clooney throws the phone out the window as he travels across the Italian countryside beautifully photographed by cinematographer Martin Ruhe.
Clooney finds himself staying in an Abruzzo region village where he befriends a local priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and regularly employs a prostitute (Violante Placido).
Our stoic protagonist meets with Thekla Reuten as a just as serious contact who wants him to construct a weapon for her – a machine gun/rifle hybrid.
There are only a few sequences of the action variety as most of the film affects a tense moodiness with minimal methods. A love story emerges between Clooney and Placido that is nicely handled even with what could be considered gratuitous nudity (not of Clooney, mind you).
The film was adapted from the 1990 Martin Booth novel "A Very Private Gentleman" which might have been a better title.
Oddly THE AMERICAN reminds me of THE LIMITS OF CONTROL – Jim Jarmusch’s much maligned, but much better than its reputation art-house film of last year. Both concern tight lipped assassins navigating through cryptic plot-lines in foreign locales and both may be impenetrable to a lot of moviegoers expecting fast paced action thrillers.
The posters with Clooney running with a gun, looking not unlike Daniel Craig in the last couple of James Bond movies, may be a bit misleading for that same reason, but with hope film loving folks will embrace this smart slow burner.