Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Movie Review: The American

Something really rubbed me wrong about The American. It felt like a movie I was being told I wasn't enjoying because I wasn't smart enough, when really I wasn't enjoying it because it was very boring. I can find enjoyment in small, subtle foreign films with little action provided they do something particularly well. The American just felt boring and weak willed. It felt like it was made by someone who thought they were doing something profound, only they weren't really. That said, man was it pretty to look at, and it's damn hard to actually dislike George Clooney, right?

Here's my take:

Slow Burn Notice
The American hopes you really, really like Clooney

Director Anton Corbijn’s The American is a movie in which George Clooney spends an hour and a half building a gun and around two minutes using one. Sketching a character as detailed as a chalk outline, it is yet another contemplation of a bad man who has done bad things and feels bad about it. Based on Martin Booth’s novel “A Very Private Gentleman,” If you’re unsure how recycled the contents in Rowan Joffe’s script are, say “Hi” to your pals the wise old priest and the hooker with a heart of gold. Thanks to rapturous cinematography and Clooney’s inherent charm, it is a fairly beautiful way to waste 103 minutes of your life.

In the white desert of snow-covered Sweden, we meet our central character (Clooney), who may or may not be named Jack or Edward and is either some kind of spy or assassin. The only clear truth is that he hates interlopers, as he guns down two intruders to the shock of Ingrid (Irina Björklund), who gets a far bigger shock about a minute later. Emulating emotions the audience would later feel, Jack or Edward is angry and stir crazy, so he scampers to Italy to see Pavel (Johan Leysen) whose craggy face and car exhaust voice does not inspire trust.

Jack or Edward is sent to a small village and told to build a rifle for Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), a gorgeous fellow bad-deed-doer. The somber, slow creation of the weapon is sporadically interspliced with somber, slow conversations with Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and somber, slow love making with Clara (Violante Placido), building to the somber, slow non-climactic climax.

Clearly meant to represent some measure of purgatory, Corbijn’s lens makes eternity in a semi-silent Italian villa feel more like paradise at times, an eternity one can contemplate fully in the time allotted for Jack or Edward to mope. Likely constrained by the source material, compelling is not the optimal word for a character sketch of a man whose crimes are stale and known to the audience from scene one, whose character insights consist of “he likes butterflies” (complete with butterfly tattoo) and whose love interest emerges from brothel boot knocking.

The only real achievement here was to increase respect for Jim Jarmusch’s befuddling Limits of Control, another semi-mute, glacier-paced flick about a spy/assassin waiting while sipping coffee. That film was whacked-out and ambiguous to the point of being oddly engrossing, The American relies on Clooney holding things together through sheer force of will, which is tough to do when you’re only permitted to glower.

Some will praise the deliberate pace and stoic nature of The American, seeing the title as a sly wink from the creators of what very much feels like a foreign film. If that’s your cup of slow-brewed Italian coffee, then drink up. Those who want more character and pieces in our character pieces are best advised to travel onward, avoiding the limbo built for bad men with multiple names.

Grade = C

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