The American is the new film from director Anton Corbijn, who shot to notoriety following Control, the biopic of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. Both films share detached and introverted protagonists. Sam Riley’s doomed Curtis struggled to fathom his place in the world, seemingly unable to control cutting himself off from everyone and everything he loved. In Corbijn’s latest, George Clooney plays a weapons expert for hire who, following a job gone fatally wrong in Sweden, is sent to sleepy Italian village, Castel del Monte, by his boss to lie low.
His is a profession that requires any relationship ties be cut. His boss reminds him of this fact, and that this is the reason the Swedish job failed. But he wants to retire, saying that the job he undertakes in Italy will be his last.
In a bid to get out of the game, he begins to form unlikely friendships whilst undercover in Italy. He is approached by a priest who tests his morality; “I don’t think God is very interested in me , father.” he retorts. He also starts to see a local prostitute – a profession where the formation of relationships is equally difficult – seeing her as a possible future.
Clooney does that understated performance, much like he did in Michael Clayton, and is perhaps even more stoic than usual. Corbijn’s camera does a lot of observing, gazing at Clooney lovingly assembling the rifle for his last client and conducting his early morning exercises. It’s no accident that Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in The West is seen playing in the village cafe, for, not only does The American play like a western with a lone gunslinger entering a ghost town, it also has the quiet portent of the opening of Leone’s film where three hired guns wait at a train station for Charles Bronson’s harmonica-playing tough guy. No words are spoken. All that can be heard is the buzzing of a fly, the wind over the plains and the dripping of a water droplet. Similarly, The American isn’t dialogue-heavy, but, as a result, it walks a fine line between being paced and being slow.
Ultimately The American is a lesser work compared to Control, but does boast some mesmerising compositions and beautifully shot sequences of the quaint, yet labyrinthine, backstreets of the village. Not only adept at concealing a vengeful assassin, they also made me want to book a flight to Italy.