REVIEW: The American

13 09 2010

Everyone can attest to the fact that “The American” is a beautiful movie to look at. The gorgeous Italian countryside, the charming architecture, and the suave George Clooney coupled with some elegant cinematography make Anton Corbijn’s sophomore directorial venture seem like the film adaptation of a coffee-table book.

But really, Corbijn only wants you too look at the surface of his movie.  Unfortunately, anything beneath that is a virtually void space, and whatever material does still lie down there is incredibly vapid.  There’s nothing wrong with staying all in the visual and never delving into the visceral.  However, a point does exist where being so excruciatingly emotionally reserved just comes off as superficial.

With its paper-thin plot, “The American” could have been a ten-minute movie in the hands of Michael Bay. Clooney gets to play an angst-ridden version of 24‘s Jack Bauer (coincidentally also named Jack), a merciless killer but tender soul.  He leaves comfortable living in Sweden after being discovered to take a vague final assignment building a murder weapon in Italy.

The movie chugs along like molasses for 100 minutes, familiarizing us with Jack’s routine but never Jack himself.  We are kept at such a distance from any sort of emotion that it watching the movie feels like looking at a painting.  It’s an implausibly orderly universe that the characters inhabit, where every house and restaurant is tidily organized and every street is appropriately deserted.  There’s also that same sense of calm and placidity that art-gazing provides; the theater chairs in need of WD-40 wound up being noisier than the movie itself.

An art-house movie that puts the emphasis on making beautiful art rather than pleasing the house is not any sort of criminal act.  Every frame exudes enough precision and expertise to keep all eyes drawn to it.  The problem is that Corbijn tells the story through tactics so subtle that they become obvious.  Before taking up filmmaking, he was an accomplished photographer, and his knack for the still frames is remarkable.  Endowing that same stillness on the silver screen, however, inspires an awe laced with sleepiness and boredom.  B- /


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3 responses

13 09 2010
Fitz

It’s distance keeps it from becoming more, but still one of the most entertaining films this year.

14 09 2010
rtm

I haven’t seen this yet but your last sentence seems to capture the sentiment of my friends when I asked what they think of it. Style over substance is what I get from the trailer (and that gorgeous poster), and from reading this I think I’ll pass. Never much of a Clooney fan either, so I’d be bored to tears watching him in every frame.

22 09 2010
Colin

Phew! I’m glad it wasn’t just me that disliked this movie.

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