Monday, September 13, 2010


Many people are going to dislike The American for all of the reasons why I think it's the best film of the year so far. It's slow. It's quiet. Very quiet. Not a lot "happens." Characters aren't incredibly likable at times. The ending is a a bit of a "downer." This is a film for film buffs --producer/star George Clooney (he of impeccable taste) managed to cajole about $20 million from Focus Features/Universal and set out to make a 60's/70's-esque, European flavored existential drama with a Dutch artiste at the helm (Anton Corbijn, Control). Rowan Joffe's spare and carefully parsed screenplay is an adaptation of Martin Booth's novel A Very Private Gentleman; I can't remember a recent movie that has been as precise with its words as The American was. This is the sort of movie that pisses people off because of the pains it takes to be different, to play by it's own set of rules and not by the ones set in place by countless other, lesser movies of this ilk. At this point in his career, it's clear that Clooney can basically get any movie he wants made made. I'm glad he's deciding to tackle rich, exciting stuff like The American.

We meet Clooney (to some he's Jack, to others he's Edward) as he's under-fire from a mysterious shooter at his lodge in the forests of Sweden. After a shocking moment of violence, Clooney is off to Italy to hide-out. What he does we're not too sure...unless we've seen the totally misleading coming attractions that make The American look like the next chapter in the Bourne series. Yes, Clooney is a hit man, and yes, he's brought out for "one last job," but that last job isn't what you might expect it to be, and how he goes about doing it will surprise many people. While in hiding, Clooney lets his guard down long enough to fall in love (or is it just lust?) with a local prostitute named Clara, played by the alarmingly gorgeous Violante Placido, who, it must be noted, spends much of her screen-time either semi or fully naked. The town's priest takes a liking to Clooney and the two of them share a few conversations about sin and man's ability to be reconciled for the mistakes they've made. Yes, there are some chases and shootouts, but they're treated almost as after-thoughts; this is a thinking person's drama that subverts your genre-based expectations at almost every turn.

For me, The American is a masterpiece. It's the sort of film that only a class-act like Clooney could get made in this day and age of cookie-cutter sequels and sanitized blockbusters. There's an elegant cool that radiates from Corbijn's film that is distinctly European -- along with director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Valhalla Rising), the Dutch are a breeding ground for promising filmmaking talent. Along with the brilliant compositions of cameraman Martin Ruhe, the classical score courtesy of Herbert Gronemeyer blends beautifully with the terse dialogue exchanges. Obvious influences from Michaelangelo Antoinioni's heady The Passenger, Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai, and even John Frankenheimer's Ronin can be felt all throughout The American; at it's core, The American really is a re-telling of a classical samurai story, with Clooney's lone-killer character stoically taking orders from his potentially double-crossing master, all in an effort to ponder everything that's lead him up to that point. The American is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking, a work that I will be re-visiting numerous times once it's available on Blu Ray. A film like this can only get better and better with repeated viewings.

(My one minor complaint -- the title. While The American is suitable and definitely ties into the story, the title of the original souce material, A Very Private Gentleman, would have been much, much better).


Joel said...

It certainly pissed my parents off. They HATED this film. With a passion. For me, it was exactly what you said: rich, exciting, tonally intoxicating, and quiet. Oh so quiet. In this way, it reminds me of "No Country for Old Men," which is a quieter film than most remember it to be, even with the action. I think the Coens' work is more complete, more involving, but this film is a masterwork in many ways, and in only days, it bumped up from an A- to an A. I loved loved loved loved this film. It reminds me a lot of Clooney's "Michael Clayton" (which I also think is a better film, but let's quit the comparisons).

Oh and I should note that seeing it made me desperately want to see "Le Samourai."

Actionman said...

Le Samourai is avail on a nice Criterion DVD. I've been watching mine almost every night the past week.