Sunday, November 21, 2010

The American

Jack (George Clooney) is an expert gunsmith who has to flee Sweden when an attempt is made on his and his companions life, he is told by his handler (Johan Leysen) to lay low in a remote town in Italy. Posing as Edward a photographer for magazines he makes acquaintance with a local priest who suspects his story but tries to help him,he also visits a prostitute (Violante Placido) who he begins to feel close to.  Jack's handler gives him the (one last) job of making a gun for an assassin (Thelka Reuten). Meanwhile the Swedes are picking up Jack's trail, who can he trust?

The American is Anton Corbijn's second film after the Ian Curtis biopic Control, it is an adaptation of the novel A very private gentleman. I have not read the book but Corbijn has said he changed the lead character from an Englishman and has changed the ending of the book in the film.
If you have seen the trailer for the film you would probably be expecting an action thriller in the Bourne or Bond style but this is far from the film we get. The film is more a slow burn mood piece with only sporadic patches of action dotted through the slim storyline and not the action fest suggested. I don't blame the distributors for trying to sell the film the way they have but this style of deceitful marketing has major problems, it only leads to bad word of mouth especially when a major star like George Clooney is involved.

Clooney plays a professional gunsmith who is a real craftsman when it comes to his work, he is not an assassin although he can be if required. It is all about the making of the gun for him, it is what he is good at and so that is what he does. Corbijn concentrates on this during the film, showing in minute detail Jack's process of making the gun for the assassin, these scenes are some of the most interesting in the film as he seems to lose himself completely in this process suggesting how he has come to be the man he is.

The film has been compared to Jean Pierre Melville's Le Samourai and it is true that the two films do share some characteristics and the Clooney character is similar to Alain Delon's however the actual performances of the actors are nothing like each other. Delon's performance in Le Samourai is pure ice almost all the way through, where as Clooney in The American does not go that far, he does not use his trademark charm and is quite grouchy (he does not even smile until around 70 minutes in) and paranoid but never does he seem to feel absolutely nothing like Delon's character. For me the film has parallels with Clooney's Up in the air, the soulless, empty professional with no ties or interest in meaningful relationships who comes to question that lifestyle when he does allow himself to let someone in. In that film of course he only terminated job contracts in The American the terminations are somewhat more final.

The film is impeccably shot in terms of both the exterior shots of the town and Italian countryside and the interiors of the room where Jack does his work. The use of lighting, composition and focus is incredible and the score which is also excellent give the film a feel unlike anything I have seen before.
The storyline has been criticized as being full of cliches such as Jack falling for the hooker and the one last job elements but this would be missing the point as although I was aware of it, it feels almost irrelevant. As I said earlier this is a mood piece and distractions in the plot did not affect this mood. When thinking about it afterwards the plot does have holes as well as cliches but I still love the film. The acting which is all first rate especially Clooney and Violante Placido (who has a very european attitude to nudity) combines with the technical aspects of the production to create a film that will not be for everyone but will be on my top ten of the year.

The American is released in UK cinemas on November 26th and is on dvd and blu ray on December 28th in the US

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