European Sensibilities Dominate Anton Corbijn’s Frame Of Reference
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
In The American, an icy assassin (George Clooney) with no name (although he goes by either Jack or Edward, generically American monikers with allusions to the Kennedy clan) wanders into a series of elegantly composed frames by photographer cum filmmaker Anton Corbijn (Control, the fictionalized biopic based on the life of Joy Division’s lead singer Ian Curtis), tracking a spiritual journey from Sweden to Italy. It should be noted though that this is definitely not a masculine meditation on Eat Pray Love, despite the fact that the protagonist partakes in a few simple meals, seeks to redeem his lost soul, and enjoys his share of carnal pleasure.
Jack/Edward has the Swedes on his trail after the botched attempt on his life that kicks off the whole affair and clues us in to the fact that he’s got a cold, cold heart. He decides this life is no longer for him and takes on one last job (haven’t we heard that one before?) that won’t even require him to pull the trigger; he only has to craft the precise weapon to be used for a hit. He hides away in Italy, which based on his habits and his American-ness is the equivalent of standing in plain sight during broad daylight, and passes time with an inquisitive priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and a too-beautiful prostitute (Irina Bjorklund). You’re sensing the saints and the sinners connection, right?
Corbijn provides perfectly composed frames with all of the extraneous noise artfully toned down in the mix. The long silent tracking shots and inattentiveness to the action sequences speak to a coolness, which flies in the face of Hollywood’s cartoonish over-indulgence. That, unfortunately, is the problem with the film. It is too composed and too perfect for its own good. Its plot, by Rowan Joffe, based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth, is studied and strenuously underwritten, as if it would be a crime to tell a story at all. The film is little more than a nod or a gesture in the direction of a narrative.
Clooney finds himself in the tradition of Clint Eastwood, the original man with no name from Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, but The American actually recalls Eastwood’s turn in The Eiger Sanction as a professional assassin forced out of retirement for a bit of revenge in the Swiss Alps. The difference between the two films and the two men, in particular, is that Eastwood hibernates in the emotional depths, whereas Clooney needs to turn on his superheated charm. He must disarm us, just as we masochistically want him to exploit us in this way. Stifling his charisma is like snuffing the life out of him. The American offers only a couple of fleeting heartbeats from him, not nearly enough to infuse Corbijn’s vision with a sense of that old school Kennedy swagger that once upon a time meant something.
The American can be seen at Rave The Greene 14, Rave Dayton South and more