Underrated: The American

2011 seems to be another great year for George Clooney, who is proving to be more and more talented as he grows older. With The Ides of March Clooney continues to improve as a director, and with The Descendants (which I am now dying to see), he’s been receiving some of the best reviews of his career. However, his sole film in 2010, The American, was somewhat overlooked by the public, yet features one of his best performances ever. Here is my original review from last year.



Cinema, by its nature, is a visual medium. It relies on the “plastics,” if you will, of the image, as well as how that image is juxtaposed with the next image in order to create an effect, be it intellectual or emotional. When stripped down to its bare essentials, few films in recent memory are as purely cinematic as Anton Corbijn’s The American. The film is a decidedly minimalist contemporary thriller, forgoing most genre conventions in favor of atmosphere and more importantly, psychology. The American in question is an assassin named Jack, played by George Clooney in his most effectively subdued performance to date. The film’s plot follows Jack as he is sent to a remote Italian village to construct a weapon for a client. Despite the title, Clooney is just about the only American aspect to this very European film, perhaps a commentary on how out of place Americans are in a European society. It might be lean, but the plot is ultimately efficient and effective for the film’s purposes.

Instead, the film primarily concerns itself with exploring Jack’s character, something that most thrillers discard with bland expository dialogue. In fact, most assassins in contemporary thrillers are summed up in the trailers: He was a top CIA official for twenty years, he can build a rifle in under twenty seconds, he has killed heads of state, he speaks six languages etc. Instead of providing any background on Jack, The American refreshingly throws us right in with him, allowing us to draw our own conclusions about him based on his actions. The film shows, and rarely tells, for as it unfolds, so does Jack. We get to know him on a level of intimacy that transcends words, for a deep melancholy and pain resides in Clooney’s eyes, replacing the actor’s usual wit and charm.

Of all things technical in The American, the cinematography approaches something close to perfection, for every composition feels just right and the images of the Italian village and surrounding countryside are too beautiful for words. Aside from a few awkward cuts here and there, the editing of The American provides the key to the defiantly pronounced pacing. Corbijn takes his time in revealing information, allowing the audience to bask in the Italian sun and take cover during night just as Jack does. Granted, some lulls in the action might feel too protracted, and a modern audience expecting something akin to a Bourne movie will doubtlessly grow impatient. Nevertheless, such an approach to a tired genre is a welcome one, for the film on the whole is calculating and measured, a reflection of how Jack approaches his profession. The film’s score is also hauntingly evocative, as if Jack is trying to flee the ghosts of his unknowable past. Ultimately, even if The American is unlikely to please most American audiences with its measured pacing and less than exhilarating plot, it works tremendously as a character study and more importantly, as a true work of cinema.


~ by romancinema on November 19, 2011.

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