A Dutch film critic named Robert Nijman has seen Anton Corbin‘s The American, the George Clooney assassin-in-Italy movie that opens next Wednesday, and has posted an IMDB review, having first written it for LiveforFilms.com. I wrote Nijman this morning, and he replied right away. “I saw it last Tuesday in Amsterdam, at a press screening hosted by Benelux Film Distributors,” he said. “I write Dutch movie reviews for movie2movie.nl and occasionally Engish-language reviews also, for my friend Phil over at Liveforfilms.com.”
Nijman’s English is a little rough here and there, requiring a few minor edits, but it’s basically a positive response as far as it goes. He’s saying that The American is a cool little atmospheric art movie in which not a whole lot happens. He almost makes it sound Antonioni-esque. I for one would be delighted with anything along these lines. A faux-Antonioni coffee-table movie, a drifting atmospheric meditation, an upscale wank for cool kidz.
“With his new and intriguing drama The American, [director] Anton Corbijn adapts the style [that he first unveiled with Control] to bring us a film that is attractive and interesting throughout, even though most of the time very little actually happens and the plot laps very quietly.
“The film tells the story about Jack (George Clooney), a mysterious refugee or runaway criminal particularly adept at furnishing and using weapons. There is something that has caused him, sometime, somewhere, to get into trouble, leaving him running for shelter in the periphery of central Italy. Which is all you have to know, because we start following the protagonist — very understatedly but intensely played by Clooney — as the film begins, and are experiencing what he experiences without a lot of exposition.
“As you care less and less about that obscure and unknown beginning (which resulted in the ongoing complications) and become more interested in the end (or the final fate of the protagonist), you realize that this is the type of film that just begins halfway through and doesn’t make excuses to explain what you’ve missed — as in all developments, meetings and stories in everyday life, there is no clear beginning.
“As Jack is approached via his contact by a new customer (Thekla Reuten) who is in need of his services, becomes friends with an Italian priest (Paolo BonaCelli), and rolls haphazardly into a relationship with a local prostitute (Violante Placido), we follow his confluence of circumstances into a new and intriguing direction.
“The American is a film that seems to place style over substance, and walks away with it very, very well. The story is not always smart, fascinating or — given the clear influence in genre and style — surprising, but these issues are expertly moved to the background by the special cinematography, and the striking eye of Corbijn. Close-ups of the actors, distance shots that are more about the environment than the cast, beautiful images of the Italian scenery (near L’Aquila, an area that shortly before suffered a natural disaster) and striking visual discoveries shown to us by the director, who appears to tell us something in each focus or movement of his camera.
“Some scenes are more moving pictures and less video, and the viewer — soothed by an immersive soundtrack — is very slowly treated to the details on screen. The expression in Clooney’s face. A butterfly fluttering by. The TV in the background, showing Once Upon A Time In The West by Sergio Leone — a masterful and obvious source of inspiration when it comes to telling by showing. An empty room, and the mood conveyed by the only person within it. Or by the craftsmanship of Anton Corbijn.”
So it doesn’t seem all that bad. Nijman seems to be saying it’s sorta kinda “good” on its own terms. Not an Eloi flick, obviously, but perhaps satisfying enough for cineaste types like Glenn Kenny and Scott Foundas and Jonathan Rosenbaum, etc. But what will Armond White say?
Over here there has been, of course, no buzz and no early screenings…nothing. No Clooney interviews, no press events, no Corbijn interviews with NYC or LA writers…zip. The first accessible Manhattan press screening happens on Monday evening, and, it’s fair to say, at a moderately dumpy theatre — the AMC 19th Street. (It’s also showing the same night in Los Angeles at the Harmony Gold screening room.) L.A. Times feature writer John Horn has seen it, I’m told. Other long-lead types may have had a looksee, but none I’ve heard about or spoken to.
Focus Features, the distributor, is selling it as a thriller (i.e., that poster image of Clooney running with a gun) on the gamble that they’ll get a bigger first-weekend gross that way. Then why open it on a Wednesday, which will allow the word-of-mouth to fly around for two days before the weekend begins? I can just see the Twitter messages now: “Oh, my God, it’s…it’s…it’s an art movie! It’s beautiful to look at. A moody atmosphere thing that shows rather than tells…aaaagggh!”