Having seen this film a few weeks ago with a buddy of mine -- the two of us hoping that we'd appreciate the slow, dawdling nature of the film we'd both heard or read about -- I can say I almost wholeheartedly agree with Dad Grice on this one. It near-put me to sleep, and I didn't like seeing Clooney's "chicken-wings" -- as Pops puts it below -- enough to counterbalance the lack of original story.
I should say that when editing Pops' piece, I took out a small rant about Clooney's politics -- in short, my dad thinks his (Clooney's) Leftist inclinations cloud his film choices (to put it nicely). He didn't like "Men Who Stare at Goats," and he thought "Up in the Air" was overrated (as did I) -- soooo, I think that about covers it. :-D There has to be something left to argue about over Christmas.
On to the soapbox!
In most of our pedantic pasts there exists a Big Book of Storytelling, planted over time. Be it by a series of English teachers or, simply, the intuit influence of common sense – likely a combination of both -- we learn from it what makes a good story.
It speaks to such things as "character development," "protagonists," "antagonists"; "plot development"; "conclusion." All things lead to caring about the characters, discerning a coherent plot and, wonder of wonders, having a scintilla of interest and desire to know how to goad attention.
“The American” director Anton Corbijn must have missed those lessons.
"The American" starts nebulously with our hero and hit-man, Jack (George Clooney), engendering some real goodwill with us viewers as he shoots what appears to be, as we are later tangentially made aware (kind of), a love interest in the head in some snowy, Siberian-esque landscape. Such is his need for remaining surreptitious as a couple of faceless thugs lay waiting to ambush. This leads to his escape into the wilds of Olde Italy, as Jack's wary of a double cross, possibly, for wanting “out”?
This theme, that of putting together a box of parts with directions written by an English as-a-fourth-language writer, becomes clear early on. [Editor's note: Perhaps this is why the movie is so conspicuously devoid of dialogue?] Jack makes some attempt at hiding, though not really...again, it would appear? Huge amounts of slow, slow moving footage intertwines all and, adding insult to injury, it isn't even set in an attractive part of Italy, so our scenic cinematography is lost on one vacant-seeming village upon another.
In watching the unfolding of one half-baked subplot after another – say, the footsy played with Jack's compadre hitwoman Mathilde (Thekla Reuten); a tangential brush with spirituality (?) via the start of a never-shaken-out relationship with the town's Good Father (Paolo Bonadelli) and his illegitimate son; the pursuit of those from Jack's last job now resulting in a shift to Jack-as-target based on probably some good reason (that we're unaware of); Jack's noticing a “rare” butterfly, I guess, in shorthand to demonstrate his “sensitivity” -- we hope these ever-slow sideshows coalesce into the semblance of order and sense.
Alas, they do not.
One point that is finally made clear is that Jack wants out of his line of business.
This awakens our sensibilities like an alarm clock via the strangely, awkwardly juxtaposed red-hot love scene with local prostitute Clara (Violante Placido), with whom Jack has been dramatically smitten; he has found an urgency for his escape (this movie, clearly, could have used more Clara-facation). [Editor's note: “Zing!” And/or, “Gross,” if taken the wrong way.]
Without spoiling the end, Sensitive Jack, now with two feminine notches on his gun, and that rare, annoyingly symbolic butterfly, are faintly shown in the final scene to be sadly sympatico.
At least that is what I think I saw.
I was left with a couple of overriding observations.
George shows off his physique via push- and pull-ups, reminding me of the newly arrived football season – unfortunately not for muscley appearance, but because of the chicken wings. [Editor's “Zing!”] Body-double time approachin', Georgie.
George further cements his cinematic image as lady killer (though, also literally), seemingly to set him sail for James-Bond land. While this isn't all bad, I would hope he finds more introspective and/or eclectic roles where he can better utilize his gifts.
Finally, could the book upon which this is based possibly have been as bereft of essential story elements as was reflected here? Or, was the problem with the scriptwriting and direction?? It really should not have been difficult to spot the lack of coherence/dissonance. Next time, at the very least, Anton should send his scripts over to the local high school creative writing club for a second opinion before unfurling such a mess.
I received a text message from Dear Old Dad, saying that he "Wanted to add that it wasn't a total loss. It did spawn a saving system of sorts.
I would give it 2 "dry heaves": Wretched, but sans substance.
Editor's post-post-note, I should say that I doubt Papa G has seen Corbijn's awesome "Control," which is why I went into "The American" wanting more than I got. Know what to get Dad for Christmas, just to settle the Corbijn CV.