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Review: The American

Starring: George Clooney, Thekla Reuton, Violante Placido
Directed By: Anton Corbijn

Movie assassins are the most contrived protagonists in Hollywood. Their stories follow the same tired path of death and redemption, generally becoming predictable and boring in the process. Euro-cool thriller The American starring George Clooney did not set out to break the mould. More of a facelift than anything else.

The American follows hitman Jack (Clooney) as he is forced to lay low in the small town of Castelvecchio, Italy. Jack takes a new assignment, to build a custom sniper rifle via mysterious contact Mathilde (Thekla Reuton), but then unexpectedly in the course of forging new relationships, begins to contemplate a new life.

Visually this is a beautiful film– as shot by Martin Ruhe – with Anton Corbijn exploiting his photography background to fill the vast Italian landscape with lush colours and desirable faces. As such, Corbijn creates an interesting contrast between style and themes; the bleakness of Jack’s past and the serenity of a picture postcard village.

Full complement to costume designer Suttirant Anne Carlarb for sourcing unadorned, sixties style costumes – her M.O. that Jack should be “anonymous, to blend into his surroundings”. Clooney wearing a casual black jacket, wool jumper and jeans aligns a sense of coldness with his character. This corresponds with Jack’s charcoal lounge suit – designed by Ermenegildo Zegna – worn during the final moments of the story, which is minimal and sharply cut.

Mathidle’s look compliments the rich Tuscan photography. Her second costume, a rollneck wool dress by Malò, is a warm, inviting colour, reflecting her affection towards Jack and, perhaps more blatantly, lending itself to the film’s obviously luxurious sheen.

Clooney’s performance here ranks up with Michael Clayton (2007) as one of his career best. There is little actual dialogue, though he employs those world-weary eyes to great effect. Patently this is a man who has been in the ‘business’ too long and must make a break. Despite nearing his fifties, Clooney demonstrates deft athleticism in the few scenes of physical action. This character is a capable man; believably a professional killer.

Yet The American encapsulates that well-worn, but appropriate old saying, ‘style over substance’. Any fascination in Jack is diminished by the film’s meandering script. Threats are too occasional to provide excitement. Even a post-Jason Bourne ironic scooter chase is not enough to pick up the pace.

What we are lead to demand from the story, Jack’s revelation, never occurs. Corbijn’s direction too is not as sure-footed as it might be. He seems somewhat lost with how to bring his protagonist to life. Though Clooney is consistently excellent, The American fails to reach the emotional notes expected. Pity, as this had everything in place to be one of the year’s best.

The American is showing at the 54th London Film Festival From 16th-19th October.

© 2010 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.