George Clooney, Paolo Bonacelli, Violante Placido
Martin Booth, Rowan Joffe
Journey to Redemption: The Making of The American
Feature Commentary with Director Anton Corbijn
There is a good chance that if you are an American, you will have difficulty with the new George Clooney thriller The American.
Directed by Anton Corbijn, a former music video director who gave us the quietly brilliant Ian Curtis biopic Control, has crafted what can really only be referred to as an anti-thriller. The American is being marketed here in the U.S. as a Clooney thriller, yet this Focus Features release likely one of the quietest, most still thrillers you will ever see.
Is The American thrilling? Absolutely, but the thrills in The American come from surrendering to the film's slow, methodical and patient examination of its central character, an American operative known as either George or Jack (Clooney). This operative isn't consumed in a world of violence, though he essentially helps to create such a world. Clooney's Jack is a craftsman, a man who has what appears to be the disturbingly normal gift of crafting virtually any weapon that a human being can desire.
Jack doesn't care the purpose, objective or moral behind a weapon, instead he himself is a weapon and servant of Pavel (Johan Leysen) and he simply does, without fail, as Pavel would order. It is this aching normalcy, undistracted much of the time without extreme action or acts of violence, that defines The American, a much more European variation of the thriller genre.
Based upon the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth and penned by Rowan Joffe (director Roland Joffe's son), The American isn't the kind of thriller that will hold the attention of those who proclaim the Bourne films to be the cream of the thriller crop. However, for those who long for a more old school, paranoia-driven approach to the thriller genre, The American will be an anxiety inducing breath of fresh cinematic air.
It becomes clear early on in The American that Clooney's Jack is a wanted man, a man whose life is threatened at virtually every corner and a man for whom violence is a necessary evil given his chosen path. An on the run Jack heads to a picturesque Old World Italian village, a place where he hopes to both lay low and deliver an ordered weapon for Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). While in the village, he falls for a local prostitute (Violante Placido) and bonds with a priest (Paolo Bonacelli). There is a tremendous and inevitably paranoia that raises out of what becomes increased normalcy for Jack, a sense of connection and communal belonging that is primitive yet quietly real. Rather than reveal an emotional response to this connectedness, Clooney reveals virtually everything silently through his body language and facial expressions.
Clooney's performance here is so brilliantly understated that there's virtually no chance he will receive any recognition for it, some will proclaim it effortless presence while others will likely proclaim it to be derivative.
It is neither.
Clooney's turn as Jack is a fine study of Clooney as actor serving up a disciplined, finely nuanced take that doesn't "feel" authentic and that is precisely what makes it so incredibly authentic. Clooney is surrounded by an able and convincing supporting cast, most notably Violante Placido's emotionally revealing performance as a prostitute with whom Jack forms a relationship. Placido manages to build a convincing relationship despite the challenge of playing against a character who reveals almost nothing throughout the film, a parallel performance that is all the more heartwrenching when played beside the stillness of Clooney's Jack.
Cinematographer Martin Ruhe, who worked with Corbijn on Control, again creates magic by capturing with stellar precision the beauty and wonder of the Italian village contrasting with the ever increasing paranoia of life for Jack. To enhance the stillness, Corbijn largely forgoes an original score and gives the film a jarring and unsettling atmosphere that will never let go of you should you surrender to it.
Despite being utterly swept into the world of The American, it remains to be seen if such a still, thoughtful and simmering thriller can capture and hold the attention of the American audiences. A more likely scenario has The American capturing a modest box-office with a considerably more successful run overseas followed by a longer life on home video.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic