Monday, September 13, 2010

The American

The first image of Anton Corbijn’s new film “The American” is of a snow-covered cabin in Sweden. For the first 30 seconds or so there is no sound. None. No wind rustling through the trees. No chirping birds. Perfect solitude. Then, so quietly you’re not even sure you can hear it at first, there is a piano. Inside the cabin George Clooney is held up with his girlfriend. They are perfectly contented in their isolation, like Adam and Eve. Too bad for them that this is a thriller, and that soon comes to a violent end.

Clooney plays a man named Jack, or maybe it’s Edward, or maybe none of those things. Jack/Edward has an unusual job, he claims to be a photographer but in reality he builds custom weapons for assassins. After the nastiness in Sweden, he’s fed up, frightened and justifiably paranoid. But his handler convinces him into one last job. Jack/Edward gets the specifications for the rifle he is to build-a collapsible sniper rife with the machine gun’s firing speed.

He hides out in a small Italian town in the mountains of Abruzzo. There are wonderful scenes of Jack /Edward building the rifle. The components laid out in rows on the table of his dingy hotel room. He is good with machines but he is distracted. He spends his days talking with an old priest; he spends his nights with a prostitute named Clara (the absolutely gorgeous Violante Placido). Otherwise he sits and waits.

The film very much rests on Clooney’s performance. At this point in the year I would not be surprised if he were nominated for an Oscar. The director knows how good Clooney is and builds the film on his skill. A lesser actor might have required a script with more exposition, more action to keep us interested or more intrusive music to help us notice what we need to see. But luckily for this film, George Clooney has gotten very, very good at playing lonely, detached and mysterious. He plays his character as a nervous man constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. All the drama, and suspense in the film is in his face.

As an assassin film, it does owe a lot to the heavyweight champs of the genre. The entire set-up is reminiscent of a section from “The Day of The Jackal” where the assassin goes to see an old man about a custom rifle. Both films have explosive bullets and scenes were an assassin tests the weapon in a secluded field. The mood of the film, the Zen mindset of the protagonist and camera work owe a lot to Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samurai” which is an excellent film you should go rent right now.

There are better films of this type out there but not in theaters. But there aren’t better Clooney performances out there. Also don’t believe the ads; this is NOT an action film.

Grade: B