Thursday, September 30, 2010

The American

The American
Grade: A
Cast: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Paolo Bonacetti, Thekla Reuten
Director: Anton Corbijn
Free Admission Granted

It’s time to submit a definition of the George Clooney hero.

He’s an aging professional who has grown smarter than the system to which he has indentured himself. The distance between his intelligence and the system’s need for myopy breeds cynicism and alienation. Finding himself the villain of his own story, he is sinking into a crisis in which his soul suddenly wants more than the system can give him.

Since at least Out of Sight, and most effectively in the tremendously underrated Michael Clayton, Clooney has explored iteration after iteration of this role, in the way Tom Cruise used to play the young hot shot needing mature guidance. Being a smart star, Clooney has chosen a character (or a character has chosen him) that is indelible to this modern time and place. It has made Clooney a star worth investing in.

The American sees Clooney as a darker shade of this hero, an underworld weapons expert forever on the move. He arrives in a picturesque Italian villa to slowly custom-build a high-powered weapon for a sexy female assassin (Thekla Reuten). His instinct is to keep a low profile, to stay professional, to submit to the system, even though he feels it closing in. A recent tragedy finds this taciturn wanderer slowly opening to human connection. He befriends a priest (Paolo Bonacetti) who knows a sinner when he sees one. He succumbs to the beauty of a gorgeous prostitute (Violante Placido) who views an American as a path to another life.

It’s too bad Grahame Greene has already used the title The Quiet American. It fits this film’s hushed European style, the alienation it gathers out of chilly imagery. As a young photographer, director Anton Corbijn (Control), matched moody images to the moody music of Joy Division. The American shares that same icy visual mystery. The town’s narrow stone corridors seep with paranoia. Clooney’s attraction to a gorgeous spot of countryside serves as an antidote of liberating beauty.

Clooney’s charm and charisma usually soften films with the Clooney hero. They are stories of alienation without feeling like stories of alienation, missing that cold Antonioni thing of watching characters come apart in the emptiness. Not so The American. For one picture, Clooney scrubs down the charm and hides it in a shell. The film relates his character to a butterfly, but really, he’s stuck in a cocoon, a permanent state of transformation, unable to fly away.

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