(2010) director Anton Corbijn
viewed: 09/10/10 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA
Unlike the corporate axe man that George Clooney played in Up in the Air (2009), in The American, he’s more a literal axe man, an assassin, gun for hire. But much like the business suited job slayer who travels the world, leaving only a carbon footprint and laying down nary a root, Clooney’s killer American is also facing a sort of mid-life crisis, yearning for a connection, a relationship, some meaning to fill his roving soul. Clooney, such a noted long-time bachelor may be playing out his own yearnings to an extent in these roles. Who knows?
The American is the second feature film from Anton Corbijn, whose 2007 film about Ian Curtis and Joy Division, Control, had a similarly downbeat if not out-and-out pessimistic quality to it. The film is slow, intentionally so. It is meant to have meaning and weight and some existential significance.
At the outset of the film, Clooney is shacked up in rural Sweden with a hot naked babe. But then, out of nowhere, two gunmen attempt to kill him as he walks through the snow with her. She becomes collateral damage, a witness, and Clooney shoots her in the back of the head. Then it’s off to Italy!
After his hideout has been compromised, Clooney’s boss sends him to Castel del Monte, Abruzzo, Italy, a rural, visually stunning town, where he’s assigned a job to lay low and to make a custom rifle for a client. Castel del Monte is amazing, piled high on a hill like a cubist archtitect might build such a place, but also riddled with stone passageways that M.C. Escher might have concocted. It’s quite something.
Corbijn is shooting for some meditative types of film, something perhaps like Michaelangelo Antonioni or Jean-Pierre Melville. Clooney tries hard to seem distant and charmless, but he finds himself a beautiful prostitute with whom he falls in love, against his boss’ orders and his own better thinking, and realizes that his life is flitting away meaninglessly like the metaphorical butterflies with whom Corbijn associates with him.
The thing is, that while the film is far from “bad”, it also doesn’t manage to successfully achieve this European quality, this arguably 20th century existential angst. It just seems slow, intentionally slow, without much drama, tension, or impetus.