Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks
Wednesday, September 22, 2010 M. Ovie Reviews – The American
When movie stars act with those they love, the results are rarely as interesting as they – or we – might hope. I could run down a list of examples, but we all know I can just say Gigli and move on. Unfortunately, The American, in which George Clooney costars with his beloved Italy, is no exception.
The Cloon is either Jack or Edward, depending on who he's talking to, and he's a pathologically taciturn hitman, freelance armorer, and amateur lepidopterist complete with a butterfly tramp-stamp. It's clear from the sixth thing his character does (the first being "stare into the fire" and the second being "take a drink" and the third being "stare into the fire some more") that he's not going to get a happy ending, but he does get to live out a certain kind of male fantasy for most of the rest of the film. Namely, he hides out in the picturesque Italian countryside (speaking just enough of the language to get by but not enough to look like a sissy), has no job other than to work on his upper body and a manly craft project in his rustic flat, deploys some Clooneylingus to graduate to off-the-clock status with a prostitute who looks like an Italian Katie Holmes, and – let's face it – is George Clooney. Plus he gets to fully enjoy his highly attractive existential crisis, because the 3D maze of a town he's staying in fortunately comes fully equipped with a bored priest who has nothing to do but try to save a creepy American's soul. Which, even if such attempts are mainly rebuffed, it's nice to see the effort.
The poster would have you believe there is action in this film, what with its depiction of George Clooney running in a suit. In fact, he spends most of the film sitting and looking pensive in Land’s End. This is not to say that The American is the frequent opposite of action-packed, which is to say talky, because it's also the opposite of talky. The dialogue is written so economically that I suspect screenwriter Rowan Joffe was told that he'd have to pay the actors by the word, out of his own pocket. In fact, even when characters get killed, almost all of them do so with such polite discretion they might as well be in a library. This is mostly tedious, although one unexpected benefit is that when one of the many heavily-accented characters says something you didn't catch, you have several minutes to sit there puzzling it out before someone else gets a line.
So what actually happens? Very little. As is customary, it's all about One Last Job, but in a departure from custom, there is no context for it. There's no big picture, no sense of how Jack/Edward's project fits into any kind of geopolitical context or even his own nonexistent backstory. Which is actually fine with me, because that crap is generally just window dressing and McGuffins anyway, but the downside is that the movie becomes all about Jack/Edward's inner life, which our leading man is forced to convey through varying levels of eyebrow-height and jaw-set. Any Clooney fans who have said they'd see him in a movie where he doesn't even do anything, this is their chance to prove it. And yes, there's something to be said for quiet suspense and underplayed tension, but I'll let other people say it. Maybe the goal was to reflect the slower pace of life in pastoral Italy, in which case I'm not going to pastoral Italy.
One thing I enjoyed: when I bought my ticket, the cashier picked up a phone and said into it, "Go ahead and start The American." Then he hung it up and told me I was going to get a private show. Indeed, I was all alone in the auditorium. That was kind of cool, but it's the second time that's happened to me at this theater, which makes me think it might not be open that much longer. And I think I need a few more experiences like this to overcome my conditioning against using my cell phone at the movie theater, even when I'm the only one in it. posted by M. Giant 4:46 PM 2 comments
A private show from George Clooney? Oh, bee-HAAAAYVE.
The American moved way too slow. The premise was interesting, but just never really came together at any point.