I’m polishing my review of Anton Corbijn‘s The American, which I saw last night at the AMC 19th Street. But I first need to explain the absurd circumstances it was shown under. This is one of the quietest films I’ve seen in in my life — George Clooney raises his voice slightly once or twice, and nobody ever shouts — but during the entire thing the dialogue was competing with and mostly losing to an unusually loud air-conditioning system in the theatre.

Remember the next-to-last scene in the 1960 Ocean’s Eleven, inside the Las Vegas chapel where the Rat Pack is attending a funeral service for poor Richard Conte? They’re sitting side by side in a pew and they hear an odd persistent noise — something blowing and rumbling. “What’s that sound?” one of them asks, “The deceased is being cremated,” an usher says. That was what I was listening to throughout the entire film last night, only two or three times louder. I had to cup my ears to hear some of the dialogue.

If there’s one film I’ve seen this year that really demands first-rate sound and a sense of absolute dead quiet in the theatre, it’s The American. And it was shown in the noisiest theatrical environment I’ve encountered in years if not decades.

It was almost as if someone at Focus Features had decided to ruin the viewing experience as best they could without being too overt about it. (I’m not suggesting this, of course.) I can imagine the meeting when they decided on the best plan. “We need to diminish The American with New York critics, but how?” a publicist might have said. “What if we hire a couple of guys to agitate the crowd?,” a colleague might have suggested. “You know…get them to talk loudly at the screen and maybe start a fight in the middle of the show?” Too blatant, the first guy would say. Something more subtle. “I’ve got it!” an assistant could pipe in. “We show it at a theatre with a noisy 1962 ventilation system that rumbles so loudly people won’t be able to hear some of the dialogue!” Brilliant, says the first guy.