George Clooney may be the oddest star in Hollywood – when Adam Sandler uses a film shoot as an excuse for a vacation, the result is the appallingly lazy (and depressingly high-grossing) Grown-Ups, when Clooney films around his Italian getaway we end up with dark, paranoid drama The American. It can only be a matter of time before some film studio accountant declares him to no longer be a ‘bankable’ star and we have to go back to safer, more boring actors.
Playing a character who is morally indefensible – an expert gunmaker who retreats to Italy following a botched job – Clooney makes for an interestingly blank presence at the centre of The American. Delivering a minimum of dialogue in a monosyllabic, understated manner, he nonetheless manages to command attention and sympathy, partially down to his easy charm, partially because the film’s economic style doesn’t focus on any other character.
However, what really sets the film apart is its cinematography – presumably the result of Control director Anton Cobijn’s background in photography. Corbijn uses the techniques of the medium to astonishing effect – in essence creating suspense and emotion with merely the effective use of framing and focus-pulling. The soundtrack is also worthy of note, being as it is largely silent, which either brilliantly provides the viewer with more space to think and reflect or merely highlights every single annoying bit of chatter or rustling that a cinema audience will make during a film.
While much of it has been done before – the existential crime movie was a hallmark of European cinema of the 60s and 70s (the film’s sexual politics hark back to that era, with its women appearing nude as often as they possibly can, even in sex scenes where Clooney keeps his clothes on), and choosing the backdrop of a traditional, small Italian village has been done as recently as Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley (The American’s climactic action set-piece, or rather the closest the film gets to an action set-piece, will look familiar to anyone who’s seen Minghella’s film) – and it could do with a fair amount of cutting for length, The American does make for an interesting, thought-provoking diversion.