Director: Anton Corbijn
Some people say that the age of movies being sold solely on the basis of the stars is over. As much as some would like to believe it, that is not necessarily be the case. In fact, selling a film using the actors in them can actually be a good thing. For example, had George Clooney not been the star of The American, it probably would not have grossed over $35 million at the US box office. Clooney is key to selling the film since he is the only big name in it and because despite possessing some of the trappings of a hitman thriller, The American is as far removed from the likes of Hitman as is humanly conceivable.
Despite an excellent box office haul, The American received middling-to-polite reviews and equally subdued public reception. Fair enough; when one goes to see a film about a hitman (Clooney’s Jack, a.k.a. Edward) hiding out in a small town in the Apennines, one would expect car chases, gun battles and elegant and decidedly European femme fatales to pursue our hero. In a roundabout way, The American delivers. There is a car chase, there are tense scenes with snipers, there is a friendly prostitute (Violante Placido) and a female sniper (Thekla Reuten) who uses Jack’s services as a gun-maker. Where The American differs from other hitmen is in focus. Where Collateral and No Country For Old Men offered assassins as heartless philosophical ciphers, The American offers a man worn down by the grind of his trade. Clooney’s craggy features and greying mane make him perfect for the role of a man tired of this life and the cost of it all (an exciting, bloody opening in snowy Sweden necessitates Jack’s need to move to Italy to lie low). It’s a brave and subdued performance by Clooney, and is boosted by an able cast of local talent (such as Placido, and Paolo Bonacelli as a friendly priest). Every word of Rowan Joffe’s script (based on Martin Booth’s novel ‘A Very Private Gentleman’) is layered with meaning, so paying attention is not optional. The amount of conversation will turn off many an action junkie.
Director Anton Corbijn (who also directed the underrated Control) is a man blessed with an eye for astonishing visuals. The Mezzogiornian countryside looks utterly gorgeous, frequently shot in subdued single colours. The visuals, soundtrack and overall atmosphere of The American owe more to Michelangelo Antonioni than to Michael Mann. It borders on the funereal at times in its pacing, but that’s the point; The American is meditative and atmospheric rather than explosive. It could be accused of self-importance, but The American is equally elegiac, elegant and emotive; in other words, not what you’d expect from a hitman movie with George Clooney.