Thursday, September 2, 2010

The American

One can tell that director Anton Corbijn was a photographer while watching his film "The American," as he gets seduced by the look of rural Italy. Whereas in the film, Jack (George Clooney, who is pretty good, not sounding like he usually does) is ostensibly a photographer (as a cover) and really a contact killer and "craftsman," "The American" itself is ostensibly a film about a contact killer and really a showcase of architecture and landscapes, none of it studio made. These comprise a good portion of the film's shots. As said before, "The American" is somewhat of a soporific experience, with very good scenes at the beginning, middle, and end, but in between highly resembling Jim Jarmusch's "Limits of Control," complete with shots of (as Ebert said) the main character working out, "sipping Americanos in cafes," and making love to a prostitute. He also constructs a weapon and is, (as Ebert et al. said) like every man who tries to "seal himself off emotionally from the world," tortured by nightmares. Bland, somewhat poor, and (as said before) laconic writing by Rowan Joffe punctuates the film, though the trailer doesn't exactly suggest otherwise.

The film begins with a romantic encounter that turns ugly once Jack ends up having to kill off an assassin, the woman (who must have been trying to do him in), and another killer, who's car he steals. Besides a somewhat vapid opening moment of tenderness (which may very well be the point), I thought this was a well-done opening, truly startling, which seems like the teaser of a James Bond film (although it recurs later on). He then is instructed to go into Italian town Castel del Monte where he is given a job "where he doesn't even have to pull the trigger" (ingeniously) and told not to "make friends" like he did before. It involves building a gun for Mathilde (beautiful Thekla Reuten), which is a rifle that's like a machine gun and with somewhat of a silencer. He also meets a priest named Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), who tries to get Jack (a.k.a. Edward or "Mr. Butterfly," which comes from his neck tattoo) to become religious "for his own good."

He goes to a brothel periodically where he doesn't just want sex with anyone, but with Clara (Violante Placido), who pressures him into a relationship, which he gradually begins to take on. It's one of those things that starts (as said by critics) as "mechanically 'getting pleasure'" and turns into something real. As my friend said, this is one of many cliches in the film.

My friend's theory of the film is good, I think: Father Benedetto tells Jack that he's living in a hell because of his lack of love, and that he reaches (or, as my friend thinks, almost reaches) paradise at the end of the film. The landscapes are supposed to signify his emptiness. This is the best reading of the film I can think of, but it doesn't make up for my mind disconnecting and wandering.

The film is, as said before, superbly photographed by Martin Ruhe and pretty well scored by Herbert Grönemeyer (although my friend says the film would be better without one, and, at least with in how it interferes with the ending, I would agree, though I like it in other spots), and it does have a pretty satisfying ending and a good chase scene to add to the beginning. I liked certain aspects (though not all) of Clooney's work, like at the beginning, as well as how he controls his emotion so that when he betrays it (like in the chase and climax), it ends up being affecting (though this ends up being cliched with the nightmares). However, these things are not enough to keep me from feeling like I hadn't wasted 103 minutes. It is "The Limits of Control" (that level of stimulation...) with violence (...but a little more). For Corbijn, it's not as good as "Control" (not to be confused with Jarmusch's work) but better than (with a couple of exceptions) his music videos (the majority of which are crappy). C+

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