Occasionally in between the roles that he can sleep his way
through, George Clooney throws a curveball and tackles something
different. The American is a subdued and almost entirely European style
thriller with Clooney as the titular Yankee hopping around Europe before
settling, for a while, in Rome. The outcome of the opening scene is an
unexpected shift but the entire style is not.
Following up the largely praised Ian Curtis biopic Control, Anton Corbijn sticks to his dark and atmospheric technique with this quiet and understated thriller. Adapted from the 1990 Martin Booth novel, A Very Private Gentleman, Clooney plays
an assassin leading a lonely existence filled with flashy guns and
interchangeable beautiful women. After an unfortunate incident, he’s
driven from Sweden to Italy and into a new set of issues caused by a
priest who wants him to seek absolution, and a new love in the
aesthetically pleasing shape of Italian prostitute Clara (Placido).
And that is about it. It’s quite difficult to talk about The
American because not much happens in The American. Large sections of the
film remain silent and rely on the tone and atmosphere to carry it
along. For the most part it works as a quiet study of human behaviour with
an appropriate and measured performance from George Clooney. His
trademark charm and wry smile are largely gone here and replaced by a
man short on words and long on moody glares.
It’s hard to pull off and Clooney does what he needs to do well, it just all feels a bit inconsequential and unaffecting. The visual style is stunning
(particular one late night chase in a winding, cobbled Italian street)
but the characters and story is just as cold as the glacial surroundings
and fail to leave a lasting mark. There are moments when the sombre
style is lifted and replaced with the light hearted – popular Italian
song ‘Tu vuò fà l’americano’ plays in the background in one scene – and
there’s the slightest hint of the coffee drinking Clooney previously
seen in popular ads – but that’s just clutching at straws.
The American looks incredible, is knowingly and appropriately understated while
being extremely easy to watch and well directed. It’s just a shame that
it leaves the worst impression a film possibly can; none.