The American – A Review
Anton Corbijn’s The America is a bizarre beast. Part clichéd melodrama, part existential-crisis thriller and part genre-throwback, the film never really settles despite creating a haunting, romantic atmosphere.
Corbijn, in conspiracy with cinematographer Martin Ruhe, shoots the village of Castel del Monte impeccably, giving every scene its own unique feel. While this may contribute to the overall lack of cohesion in the film, it gives the viewer something spectacular to look at, and while the film may lack in certain areas, there is always something beautiful to look at, whether it be one of the many establishing shots of the town, the paradiso of a riverside clearing or the scarlet-lit interior of prostitute Clara’s bedroom.
The plot centres on George Clooney’s eponymous Jack, an assassin sent to rural Italy to await his next assignment. Paranoid and mistrusting, he feels uneasy in this unknown environment and resorts to keeping company with a priest hiding a secret and a hooker who quickly falls in love with Jack.
Clara could be seen as the centre of the film. As one of the two characters that Jack connects with, she plays a key role in bringing him to resolution, giving him a purpose and a reason to leave what he does behind. Her honourable intentions make her a rare figure in The American; where most characters have dark motives for their actions, Clara wants to leave Castel del Monte and to start her life again, with Jack.
While the film is stunning to observe, it is sadly lacking in the storytelling department. To condense a 400-page novel into 105 minutes of film takes skill, and between Corbijn and screenwriter Rowan Joffe, it falls despairingly short. The relationship between Clara and Jack feels forced and rushed, with no time given to developing them from hooker and client to prospective life-partners, and Paolo Bonacelli’s Father Benedetto is given no closure, a character left suspended while the film progresses to its climax.
Perhaps these are intentional, highlighting the spontaneity of life and the lack of endings that many characters in our lives get, but it does not feel right to leave a character as important as Benedetto behind, or to allow Jack to change his life in such a short period of time.
For a film that purports to be so intelligent, The American is incredibly clichéd. We have seen basic symbolism – look out for the butterflies – so many times that it now feels hackneyed and stale; dull rather than deep. The ending is telegraphed as soon as the final act begins, leaving the viewer waiting for what they know is going to happen. While it doesn’t ruin the film, it leaves a bitter aftertaste.
Clooney once again gives a fantastic performance. Quiet and isolated, but powerfully dangerous, he comes across as the bastard child of an odd three-way between Jason Bourne, Harry Caul and Clooney’s own Ryan Bingham from Up In The Air. Clooney no longer gives outstanding performances, as each matches the great heights of the last, but this is among the best he has ever done. At 49, he is finally cementing his place as not just the biggest movie star on the planet, but one of its very best actors.
Although the film fails to deliver a truly convincing emotional climax, as a piece of visual art it is second to none. Clooney’s performance makes it stand out, but Joffe’s screenplay is lack in several key areas. The film has received some harsh criticism, but this can be put down to the disastrous mismarketing of this as an “action-thriller”; the action if minimal and the slow pace renders this film anything but thrilling. A rushed climax does damage The American, as the contemplative build-up deserves more, but ultimately it is a satisfactory watch. It won’t challenge intellectually, but it will entertain visually.