By Armond White
For one brief moment, The American becomes a true thriller when George Clooney, playing an enigmatic assassin, stakes out a new assignment in Italy and encounters Filippo Timi (who played the mesmerizing figment of Benito Mussolini in Marco Bellocchio’s Vincere). Here, Timi—the actor of the year—projects another fully imagined life: a wary yet generous village mechanic so emotionally open that his complex humanity exposes Clooney’s dull sham.
Clooney’s still on his anti-American kick, sentimentalizing the corruption that appeals to cynical film critics who fall for his forced, noxious “charm.” Portraying a killing machine who murders unknown people for unknown reasons might be a clever metaphor for Clooney’s disingenuous occupation—perhaps even a confession—except that Timi, by exuding irreducible life, shows the art of great acting while Clooney’s closed-off automaton is merely another imperti-
Instead of examining the pessimism Clooney displays in Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck or Up in the Air, The American abstracts it into a generalized, quasi-political dread. “You’re an American; you think you can escape history,” an Italian priest tells the assassin. So Clooney continues his path of disconnected malaise—throwing in flirtatious episodes with vacuously sexy women but going for an attitude of meaningless cool. (He wears a tattoo of an endangered butterfly.) His confession, “I don’t think God is very interested in me,” doesn’t carry the weight of remorse or hopelessness. It’s a pose—customized like director Anton Corbijn’s crystalline postcard imagery.
Clooney revisits his 1970s movies fetish, imitating the mysterious, nefarious protagonist of Coppola’s The Conversation and the doomed assassin of The Parallax View, but without the authenticity of those overrated films. Corbijn imitates their studied calm, but this is not the penetrating quiet of a real locale or genuine paranoia or suspense but of portentousness.
Despite The American’s artsy style (evoking Soderbergh’s The Good German), it doesn’t refine post 9/11 distress. Yet Clooney’s still trying to profit from updating ’70s counterculture dissent. By portraying a cipher who spreads murder across the globe, Clooney falsifies the difficulty of living with a conscience that Timi gets across in only a few seconds. In The American’s bloody climax, Clooney romanticizes the guilty conscience he doesn’t have.
Directed by Anton Corbijn
Runtime: 103 min.
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