A hit man losing his nerve and wanting out is one of the most played-out story lines in film history. But as with all over used story lines, a good film can move past the cliche with its creativity and cinematic integrity; Anton Corbijn’s second film The American, does just that.
Film director Howard Hawk once said “a good movie is three good scenes and no bad ones”, The American is a great example of just that as the film opens with one of those great scenes. Setting the mood perfectly, the film begin as an attempt on Clooney’s character’s life goes wrong, sending him to Italy to meet with his employer and lay low.
The plot of this film is not as important as the mood it creates. While it is slow, in no way does it meander. The pace is very deliberate, just as everything in this film is. The shots seem to be planned out perfectly, and the cinematography is strikingly beautiful. While the music, composed by Herbert Gronemeyer, is sparse; when it is used, it is to great effect, amplifying the mood of the scene.
This kind of filmmaking may leave some people cold, especially in the first half of the film, but Clooney’s masterful performance really cements an emotional connection with the audience. The love story of the film unfolds very much as one would expect with Clooney falling in love with a beautiful Italian prostitute, played by Violante Placido. But just like everything else in the film, what could have been cliched and boring, comes off intriguing due to the actors’ performances and the filmmaking.
One flaw does rear its ugly head, and that is in the writing. Like the rest of the film, the writing is sparse and subdued, which can be a good thing, however some of the dialogue is strictly paint-by-numbers. The only other large flaw is an underdeveloped subplot involving Clooney befriending an priest, which seems to go nowhere.
However, even with these flaws, I still enjoyed the film in it’s entirety because of its style and mood.
From the opening credit sequence, you can tell this film is not of its time. I do not want to say it is a homage or tribute to 70’s thrillers, because I do not think it is. Corbijn’s style is simply just old fashioned, in a very good way.
The women are beautiful, with a look and a certain class we don’t see much in film anymore. And that is what makes the whole film work. It has a classiness to it that is very rare in thrillers today. No shaky cam, or mile-a-minute pacing, instead we get a perfectly thought out thriller that takes its time to make its characters interesting and believable.
The film’s beginning and end were superb scenes. The final action scene is one of the most exciting I have had the pleasure of watching. I had no idea what was going to happen and where these characters were going to end up.
The American may not be fast paced or action packed, but it is one of the best thrillers I have seen in a long time. While for some it may demand a certain level of patience, it rewards you with is a smart, beautifully shot, distinct thriller. A rarity these days.