Deeply moving and expertly executed

New film starring George Clooney rewards those who are willing to engage it

George Clooney stars in the new suspense thriller The American, directed by famed rock ‘n’ roll photographer Anton Corbijn. Courtesy Alliance Films Media

Fall is fast approaching, and with the change of temperature comes a change of pace at your local movie theatre as studios begin pushing their prestige pictures in hopes of being recognized during the upcoming award season.

An early forerunner for Oscar gold is The American, a new film from famed photographer and music video creator Anton Corbijn (Control).

Jack (George Clooney) is a highly skilled assassin who is forced to hide out in provincial Italy until the heat over his last job dies down. While there, his boss gives him a new assignment in which he must construct a high powered rifle for another assassin, the sexy Mathilda (Thekla Reuten).

Although he’s more than slightly standoffish throughout the film, Jack manages to form a relationship with the local priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and a beautiful prostitute (Violante Placido) who Corbijn uses to examine the warring sides of Jack’s personality.

We’re never told who or what Jack is working for, but this ambiguity adds to the brooding sense of malevolence that permeates the film.

Corbijn selects his locations well; Clooney is nearly always moving downward through serpentine-like roads, twisting alleys and narrow corridors which work to express the winding descent he’s on.

When Jack is able to get away from the town, Corbijn photographs his character in the shadows of enormous mountains and amid ominous forests in order to capture his smallness and the impossible odds he is facing.

Close ups of Clooney’s face take up a large portion of the film’s running time. But it’s not so bad; the man has a good face, one which perfectly expresses the haunting anguish of a life spent in his line of work.

For a film called The American, the movie has a decidedly European feel in terms of pacing and narrative structure. This is no straightforward summertime action/adventure popcorn pic.

Many questions are posed early in the film which are not answered until much later, and others which are not answered at all. Corbijn’s pacing is bravely deliberate; he often stretches his shots in order to allow them to be considered further allowing only fleeting outbursts of violence, sex and comedy to punctuate his picture.

Although some will undoubtedly find Corbijn’s contemplative and purposeful approach frustrating, those willing to engage the film will find a movie that is deeply meaningful and expertly executed – no pun intended.

Published in Volume 65, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 2, 2010)

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