Even if the movie calendar has at least slightly turned away from summer, I'm still sure George Clooney and Anton Corbijn's "The American" will be a tough sell (though I haven't seen any box office numbers yet.)
After all, when you dig through the simply gorgeous layers of cinematography in the Italian country side, what Corbijn and screenwriter Rowan Joffe, from the Martin Booth novel "A Very Private Gentleman," have cooked up is nothing short of a meditation, and if you aren't susceptible to its many languid charms, it can indeed be a very tedious one at that.
If you give into the rhythm of it, however, I really think there's a lot to like here (or at least there was for me). I've most often seen Corbijn's movie described as a matter of style way overshadowing substance, but though there's plenty of the latter, there's a lot going on under the extremely pretty surface here too.
When we meet Clooney's Jack, he's an assassin who's either finishing up a job or has been discovered while hiding out after completing one (that's one of the many unanswered questions that hover over "The American" and give it much of its tension.) Either way, it doesn't end terribly well for our hero. Though he survives, it's a bloody escape that will haunt him as he goes into hiding again, this time in Italy (tough life, eh?)
While there, he's commissioned by his handler, a suitably mysterious Johan Leysen, for one last mission for which, he's promised, he "won't even have to pull the trigger." He's commissioned to build a rifle/shotgun hybrid for a beautiful Italian assassinette (Thekla Reuten), and as far as story, that's pretty much what you get.
Now, for the style, which if you're a fan of cinematography, Corbijn delivers on in spades. He lingers on all the right moments and makes the most of the crazy angles you find in those Italian mountain towns. One of my favorite moments comes when Clooney's Jack drives into the center of Castelvecchio, looks around at a few curious townfolk, and then simply gets back into his Audi and drives away - rather than being the world's worst tourist, he's actually just scouting out the location of a pay phone, but it's a really funny scene.
As he's hiding out, though he's warned to "don't make any friends," Jack strikes up a friendship with Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonicelli), who is as interested in what is tormenting Jack's soul as the no-longer-bloodthirsty assassin is too. And more importantly, he meets and, at least initially, pays to have sex with the beguiling prostitute Clara (Violante Placido.) Not terribly James Bond-suave that, but since we've already seen Jack throw his cell phone out the window, we knew he was never really going to be that kind of hero. And for fans of Italian beauty, be advised going in that Placido really doesn't have much time for clothes at all through much of the movie, though I really can't call that a fault.
You can probably tell where this is going, but I guarantee that if you stick with "The American" until its splendid finale, there are plenty of small surprises along the way. What makes it all work, along with Corbijn's camera, is Clooney, who plays Jack with a weariness of the soul that keeps us (or at least me) engaged until the very end. Yes, it's essentially "Up in the Air" without much of the humor but almost as much jaded heart, and it sends summer off not with a bang but with a low-key "thriller" that works on almost every level.
And if you'll excuse me now, I'm off in an almost completely direction to have all my senses assaulted by "Machete." Peace out