THE AMERICAN (Anton Corbijn)
THE AMERICAN is a careful exercise in minimalism. Fans of the spy/assassin genre may get quite a shock with this slowly-paced thriller, but nevertheless the cinematography is marvelous, that is if you are keen on observing spatial relations, framing, and the basics of photography. THE AMERICAN's visual look is neat, precise, and involving. The aerial shots are hypnotic, and that opening credits scene where Clooney's character Jack drives through a tunnel, as Herbert Gronemeyer's score plays on is eerily effective- it's as if Jack has entered the lowest and darkest part of his life, but there is a glimmer of light, and the possibility of a way out, however uncertain.
I haven't brought myself for years to watch Corbijn's earlier film, CONTROL (I thought it required a ready mindset) and judging byTHE AMERICAN, I'd say Corbijn really is a filmmaker with a keen eye for detail. What I loved about THE AMERICAN is that Corbijn does not spoon feed the story to us; we are left to piece together the details through clues he left lying around, but make no mistake: it is not INCEPTION-level of enigma.
While in the arms of a beautiful woman in Sweden, Jack encounters two assassins after him. He kills both, as well as the woman, and flees to Rome to meet his employer, Pavel (Johan Leysen). He is sent to a small town called Castelvecchio to hide, but as means of caution, he goes to nearby Castel del Monte instead.
He meets a priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) whom he unexpectedly befriends. A prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido) falls for him, and he eventually falls for her, too. But his killer instincts kick in, and with the arrival of a mysterious woman named Mathilde (Thekla Reuten) who wants Jack to build a sniper rifle for her, Jack doesn't know who to trust anymore.
We can see that Jack is battle-weary. His face is not too happy about his life right now. He's looking for a way out. Carefully, Corbijn guides the story of Jack as he faces his inner demons. My only wish is that there should have been more time to focus on Clooney's facial expressions, but we cannot fault Corbijn and cinematographer Martin Ruhe if they wanted to sweep across the landscapes more. Afterall, the mountainous backdrop is breathtaking to look at.
The twist during the climax is most unexpected, and the final frames of Clooney as he drives in his car to meet Clara is exteremely powerful. This is a film where I was still thinking long after the credits, and wasn't sure what I'd felt- regret, surprise, confusion, or maybe all at once. THE AMERICAN is so powerful it reached me in unfamiliar emotions.