With its long sweeping shots reminiscent of European art cinema, its dearth of dialogue and/or over explanation, again reminiscent of European cinema, and its almost melancholy air of tension, once again reminiscent of European art cinema, Anton Corbijn's ironically titled The American is about as far from the typical action-oriented in-your-face Hollywood summer blockbuster that one could ever imagine. In other words, those of us emotionally over the age of fifteen (which is definitely not the demographic mainstream media is aiming for!) finally get a mature and quite artistic action thriller to counterbalance the explosion-heavy juvenilia that is thrown headlong at us each and every summer like an especially vicious game of cinematic dodgeball.
The film's quiet disarming charm, along with Mr. Clooney's own brand of quiet disarming charm, make for a fascinating case study in the long tradition of what one can call the cinema of loneliness. Strange bedfellows with such works as Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Corbijn's own treatise on a man lost in a world that has forgotten him (or at least has given up on him) is at times remarkable in its subtlety of character while also deeply resonating in its hidden layers of emotion. And Clooney manages to do all this without any seeming effort. In fact everyone involved seems to do such without any seeming effort (the drop dead gorgeous Violante Placido, as the titular traveler's possible emotional liberator, is the perfect blend of sensuality and malaise). In fact it is this very effortlessness that makes The American work as well as it does - right down to that final brilliant shot.
This sense of elusiveness (and aloofness), where nothing is ever explained and subplots are meant as nothing more than Hitchcockian red herrings, even Clooney's character's last name is never given (and his first name may be a lie as well, as for that matter, who's side he is really work for), may very well make this film - far from the action-packed thriller Focus Features' marketing team is promoting it as - fall flat for those expecting that aforementioned typical action-oriented in-your-face Hollywood summer blockbuster. An intellectual thriller (the thinking man's spy game if you will), replete with the mod artistic flare of Corbijn's directorial style (his past in music videos and 2007's gorgeously designed Control can attest to such) and a mood and style reminiscent of seventies thrillers (think Alan J. Pakula) makes The American an unexpected, and quite arresting, surprise tossed in amongst the otherwise loud obnoxia of (once again) that typical action-oriented in-your-face Hollywood summer blockbuster so prevalent in modern moviemaking. Bravissimo. [09/03/10]