Saturday, September 04, 2010

Review: "The American"

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


jeremy said...

I thought it was great. The action scenes were compact and memorable . . much moreso than a lot of other contemporary films with their incessant cutting. And yeah, cinematography was gorgeous. Any film that is meditative enough to contemplate different qualities of light, is pretty awesome in my book.
How (horrible) was Machete?

Reel Fanatic said...

It really was bloody awful (pun intended and entirely necessary ... I'm not even gonna bother to write it up, because it was as bad as the worst SNL skit turned into a movie you can think of) ... I should have just assumed so and just said no

Sachin said...

I liked The American quite a bit and found it rewarding. It was refreshing to see a film about a hitman that didn't contain needless dialogue and bloodshed.

Ofcourse, the film was a complete opposite of Machete :) Although I did expect Machete to be a B-grade movie considering it originated from the fake trailer in Grindhouse but still I had no idea that I would have had to lower the bar quite so much.

Reel Fanatic said...

I wanted to love Machete, Sachin, but like you I gather, it was just way too silly and just bloody disgusting for a feature-length endeavour ... or perhaps I'm just finally getting too old for that kind of stuff!

Jackie K Cooper said...

As you can tell from my 3 out of 10 score I found the movie pretentious and boring. I actually liked "Machete" better than "The American."

Reel Fanatic said...

I can certainly see how you got to that conclusion Jackie, but it just worked for me ... And I once thought I was a person who could handle just about any level of pointless bloodshed, but "Machete" was just so silly it made my head ache

download movies said...

This beautifully filmed and skillfully directed drama/thriller about a conflicted assassin's "last job before retirement" seems destined to end up as my favorite film of 2010- it may be almost impossible to beat. It's simplistic, but expertly crafted- I fell in love with the experience.