Anton Corbijn's The American, the long awaited follow-up to his brilliant 2007 début feature Control, is certainly not for everyone. If you prefer your espionage thrillers to be packed full of high octane action then you'd best give this a miss. However, if you like those slow and methodical character studies in a similar tone to John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy then this might just be the film you've been looking forward to all year.
Based on the novel by Martin Booth entitled, A Very Private Gentleman, George Clooney forgoes his slick charismatic persona to reveal a tortured, tired, soul in the form of ageing assassin, Jack (no surname). After killing three people in a remote part of Sweden, Jack flees and takes refuge in the quaint, beautiful town of Casta Del Monte in Italy, haunted by the ghosts of his past while being ultimately consumed by his own guilt for his actions in the opening moments of the film.
After being coaxed into one last job by his boss (Johan Leysen), where he won't even need to fire a single gun, the man finds comfort in the stunningly gorgeous and slightly mysterious prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido) while also feeling at ease with the unlikely arm of friendship from the town's priest (Paolo Bonacelli). The slow burning nature of the film's plot conjured memories of old school westerns from Sergio Leone, and clearly an influence on Corbijn's approach to the project with a cheeky nod during one of the beautifully shot cafe scenes.
I've always been a huge fan of George Clooney's work, from O Brother Where Art Thou, the Ocean's trilogy and even as recent as Up in the Air. Despite all these wonderful performances, I don't feel I've seen Clooney open up to his audience on the big screen as he did in this very touching and personal portrayal in The American. His very quiet and measured approach won't appeal to fans of his mainstream work, but I feel that's always been the beauty of the actor's career as he's never been afraid to do something a bit different occasionally.
Similar to January's Up in the Air, Clooney's performance is supported by two fascinating and enigmatic performances from his female co-stars, Violante Placido and Thekla Reuten (last seen in the excellent comedy, In Bruges). However my personal highlights involved his somewhat philosophical musings and confessions with Paolo Bonacelli's, Father Benedetto.
The American's true strength resided in Corbijn's beautiful use of the camera, with a faint reminiscence to Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy without all the convoluted tosh thrown in. These gorgeous quiet European settings were extenuated by Herbert Gronemeyer's soft emotive score.
This isn't to say the entire film consisted entirely of watching Clooney sulk and cry over past woes for two hours, there was forever this rather uneasy, yet undeniably gripping, tension, and unjustified paranoia which Jack carried through the film from beginning to end. Though the antagonists' true nature is never fully revealed, those moments of elevated tension and true suspense resonate through the plot long after they've actually occurred.
A slow-burning and intelligent character study which may leave audiences pondering more questions than the film cares to answer. George Clooney's Neo-Western, Eastwood-esque approach was undeniably touching while Placido and Reuten added a real sense of glamour and class. The real winner of the film though was the director himself who continues to show his natural talent for making truly provocative and visually gorgeous films.
The American is in cinemas nationwide now.