George Clooney‘s hitman Jack in The American is posed as an anti-thesis to the James Bond archetype. Jack is all technique and no soul, an expert craftsman who is not, as a priest tells him, a true artist. Director Anton Corbijn (Control) has done something similar with his film. It is a thriller without the slick editing, teasing banter, and high body count we associate with the thriller. The American is a stylish, reflective, and very European exercise, but, like Clooney’s character, is cerebral rather than warm or thrilling.
The lack of emotional engagement is a problem when Corbijn makes you sit through Jack’s daily routine, leaving almost all the specifics of the characters’ lives unspoken. Indeed, a lot of the film has no dialogue. Cinematographer Martin Ruhe serves up some chilling compositions: the old Italian village awash in yellow-orange street light fits the tone like a glove – but one can look only so many times at George Clooney climbing up and down winding European streets. His relationship with the prostitute Clara is compelling only because the talented and beautiful Violante Placido is convincingly enraptured by Jack’s loneliness. Clooney can play a masked man with the right amount of brooding and hardened curtness, but if we knew more about Jack this would seem less like a monotonal acting choice.
Since The American has already been dissected by worthier critics than me, I will only add that Corbijn’s aesthetic precision is welcome amid the hectic handheld technique directors are waving around on action sets nowadays. Too bad screenwriter Rowan Joffe did not add a story to match.