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Written by Sheila Seacroft   
01 12 2010
ImageDirected by Anton Corbijn
It's hard to imagine that many people will come away from The American without a sense of disappointment. Both those expecting a high octane action thriller on the lines of Bourne/Bond, and those anticipating something moodily complex in Corbijn's follow up to his wonderful CONTROL, will feel equally shortchanged. A film more of moods than of action, certainly, but moods that don't develop and  never amount to much beyond a cliché, I'm afraid. It's certainly pretty to look at, as one would expect from former photographer Corbijn, but then a film set in an Italian hill town with good-looking protagonists would struggle not to be. 

 George Clooney is good, it must be said, downbeat and introspective as an increasingly reluctant assassin, his face a neutral mask in which only the eyes express inner anguish, an almost perpetual onscreen presence  and often in full close-up. Though more has been made of what is in the end a rather too monotone portrayal of brooding angst than I think it warrants. His glum realisation of the poisonous nature of his job, not that remarkable as it's a staple of several other action movies with ‘heart', is a kind of ‘given' very early on rather than developing, more interestingly, before our eyes. 

In the credibility department, he must be the most inept hitman ever at going undercover - he holes up in a very small Italian country town (the type notorious surely for gossip and speculation about incomers), where he soon becomes well-known to the locals as The American', and has high profile meetings with his contact in public places, as well as receiving a mystery packet through the post and procuring suspicious looking spare parts quite openly from a local garage. Now this village as well as being extremely photogenic also its oddnesses - no heads bob out of windows when there's all sorts of loud shenanigans at night with shooting, crashing cars and vespas, not to mention the resulting two corpses, which would presumably have elicited not inconsiderable gossip and doubtless suspicion about the stranger in their midst, not to mention police action. But it's as if nothing has happened.

As the plot advances cliché tumbles out after cliché - the beautiful, good prostitute you fall in love with and who falls in love with you - male wish-fulfilment at its rummest; the flawed, bon vivant priest who seems to know what's in your heart; the hard-faced fellow-assassin who obviously fancies the pants off you; the dodgy Swedish foe who (quelle surprise!) tracks you down to your hidey hole; The ‘can you trust them' nature of the people you work for and with; the almost certainly doomed plans for a ‘new life' after this one last job; and, oh, the climactic religious procession so that ordinary people and altar boys can add flavour to the shoot-up showdown!

Jack/Edward (Clooney)'s American-ness is made much of - it's the label by which he is known, and symbolically with it comes all the baggage of the American abroad, his separateness, the symbolic political overtones perhaps of his destructive presence, even the Henry-Jamesian ‘innocence' of being beguiled by the warmth of both prostitute and priest with their old world spiritual/sensual European ways. But this doesn't really hold water - Jack/Edward could just as well have been a buttoned up English bloke.

What saves this load of hokum from mediocrity is Clooney's subtlety, and the look of the thing - in particular the luminous looks of Violante Placido (who incidentally is the daughter of the actress who played Michael Corleone's first, doomed innocent Italian wife in The Godfather), and the beauty of the almost vertical little town of Castel del Monte whose complex gradients Corbijn takes much pleasure in using for suspenseful and decorative effect. But hokum it is.
Seen at Cineworld, Haymarket, London, 29 November 2010


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