All Are Expendable
This is Anton Corbijn’s second release and he’s certainly proving himself to be a formidable independent talent. Before we get started with the review, I need to quickly make mention of how this film was horrifically misrepresented by the studio. What is a very clever and morose glimpse into a lonely existence was plastered as a Bourne film starring George Clooney. The truth is, it couldn’t be further from it, in essence it’s closer to In Bruges, minus the humour.
Largely based on the novel by Martin Booth, The American is the story of a contract killer, Edward (or possibly Jack) [Clooney] forced to execute his lover and flee Sweden after being targeted by rival hitmen. In desperation, he makes his way to Rome but is then sent on to the very small village of Castelvecchio by his employer. Unhappy with the location, he dumps the map and mobile phone and makes his way to the nearby town of Castel del Monte. Whilst lying low, he is instructed to construct a custom rifle for assassin, Mathilde [Reuten]. With such a small population, the townsfolk cannot help but recognise the out-of-towner; in particular, an old priest, Father Benedetto [Bonacelli], who shares several meaningful chats with the reclusive hitman. During his time gathering parts and building the weapon, Edward mostly keeps to himself. The only individual he seems to have contact with, bar the priest, is a prostitute named Clara [Placido]. Having completed the rifle, taken the time to fully analyse his life and formed a connection with Clara, Edward decides this will be his final job; having announced as much to his employer, he awaits payment and delivers the rifle.
Many will claim this film to be a slow, European tale focusing on subdued performances and restrained emotion. If anything, this is the opposite of European cinema and feels more indicative of a Japanese drama by Yasujiro Ozu – I’m not saying it’s anywhere near that level of timeless genius but it’s certainly impressive. Beautifully shot, well-paced (despite what impatient audiences may say), expertly directed and masterfully led by Clooney’s performance. What’s more, at no point does Corbijn feel the need to pander to the audience, he presents what he feels is necessary and reveals only what he chooses. No elaborate payoff and no epic showdown, just a perfectly fitting, utterly tense finale. All of which is accompanied and accented by the subtle and often beautiful score by Herbert Grönemeyer.
Naturally, this film is far from perfect and there are a few niggling points – bar the stupidity and immaturity of global audiences, who need formulaic hits in order to a,) understand and b.) enjoy a film; fucking plebs. The real problems stem from the Clara character. I wholly understand her purpose, I understand that she represents a mirrored soul for Edward, an undesirable suddenly overcome with the desire to leave behind the gutter from which they found each other. That’s grand, I get that. But I didn’t feel any chemistry between the two characters other than she was a booby Italian girl and he was . . well . . George Clooney. I’m not trying to undervalue the work that either actor did, I just didn’t feel there was a great deal of chemistry between the two characters nor was there enough time to fully explore it. That and the tiny historic town of Castel del Monte even having such a bordello is a little obscure.
All-in-all, I believe this film will pan at the cinema and perform averagely at the box office. Through no fault of the film, simply for the fact that audiences are far too impatient and childish to actually see the true merits of a film of this nature. Sure, it will have its audience and there will be those who see it for the marvellous work that it is but that won’t stop it from floundering awkwardly through the box office charts before finding well deserved success on DVD / Blu-Ray. Which, ultimately, is a shame.
26th November 2010
The Scene To Look Out For:
I recently received an email for moaning about a sex scene or nudity or something but I’m going to do it again. This film has about two sex scenes – largely to establish the nature of Clara’s work – but also to illustrate a connection between her and Edward. The first time is rather tasteful, an undressing followed by a fade to black but the second time felt out of place. I understood what Corbijn was doing (keeping it non-gratuitous) but the whole thing felt a little too extended and not entirely necessary. Had there been more of a connection between Edward and Clara outside of the brothel, I may have been happier with it but the relationship just felt lust-based and temporary. But that’s not why I’m highlighting it. I’m bringing it to your attention because throughout the entire thing I was scrunching up my face and wincing in the dark, try to figure out if he was performing anal sex. I know, I’ve rambled about immaturity and blah blah but it bothered me. I needed to know – still do. Primarily because I don’t see the significance and if it’s just normal sex . . . why did I think it wasn’t? Hmm . . . interesting. No? Well, fuck it.
**Spoiler from the second sentence onward — just so you know**
The supporting cast really do a wonderful job but this is another opportunity for Clooney to really show off and demonstrate that he is an incredibly capable actor and when associated with the right project, able to produce something both tender and haunting. Of all the standout moments, nervous darting glares and prolonged silences, it’s the slamming of the steering wheel that got me. I’ll assume you’ve seen the film and spare you the complete rundown but Edward is driving to meet Clara having taken care of the last loose ends, only to discover a pain. As he reaches to his side, he notices traces of blood and as shock fades, frustration takes over and he pounds the steering wheel. The rest of the drive focuses on Edward’s face, desperately concentrating and clinging on as long as possible. The whole thing demonstrates how a truly gifted actor doesn’t need to bounce off the walls like Nicolas Cage in order to convey sheer despair.
“You cannot deny the existence of hell; you live in it. It is a place without love”
In A Few Words:
“Deep, thoughtful and beautifully shot, The American is a contemporary rarity that relies upon subtlety and underlying tension over the standard spy-thriller pulp”