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Catching up with Clooney

There are quite a few reasons to like The American. It is an action film with almost no action, making it a non-action action film which, I now know, is my favourite kind of action film. It stars George Clooney, and while I have tried to imagine Mr Clooney doing something uncharismatically — rinsing out his pants in the sink, say, or hosing down the car on a Sunday morning — I cannot. I’d buy a ticket for both. And it’s directed by Anton Corbijn, the Dutch photographer turned film-maker who made Control, the excellent film about Joy Division, and who knows how to compose a shot gorgeously.

27 November 2010

12:00 AM

27 November 2010

12:00 AM

There are quite a few reasons to like The American. It is an action film with almost no action, making it a non-action action film which, I now know, is my favourite kind of action film. It stars George Clooney, and while I have tried to imagine Mr Clooney doing something uncharismatically — rinsing out his pants in the sink, say, or hosing down the car on a Sunday morning — I cannot. I’d buy a ticket for both. And it’s directed by Anton Corbijn, the Dutch photographer turned film-maker who made Control, the excellent film about Joy Division, and who knows how to compose a shot gorgeously.

There are quite a few reasons to like The American. It is an action film with almost no action, making it a non-action action film which, I now know, is my favourite kind of action film. It stars George Clooney, and while I have tried to imagine Mr Clooney doing something uncharismatically — rinsing out his pants in the sink, say, or hosing down the car on a Sunday morning — I cannot. I’d buy a ticket for both. And it’s directed by Anton Corbijn, the Dutch photographer turned film-maker who made Control, the excellent film about Joy Division, and who knows how to compose a shot gorgeously. I doubt this will be a multiplex box-office smash. It is too still with too few thrills and spills. It is too existential, too European and too melancholy — although, on a brighter note, there is the most luscious sex scene. There, that woke you up, and as for my knees: I confess they turned to water. I am still a bit wobbly now.

Clooney plays an assassin; an assassin forced to hide out in a mountain village in the Italian region of Abruzzo, east of Rome. The village is medieval, and stunning, with steep cobbled streets, sleepy bars and ravishing views of the surrounding wild landscape. If you are ever an assassin forced to hide out, make your bosses hide you here. Don’t let them fob you off with Brent Cross or an Arndale Centre, even though they are probably the cheaper option and it would be handy for your Christmas shopping.


Clooney is not underoccupied. When not assassinating, he makes bespoke weapons, lovingly, like an artisan. He has a mysterious female client, a fellow assassin, who calls him ‘Mr Butterfly’. We do not know his real name. He could be Jack or he could be Edward or he could be neither. I do not think it’s accidental that, on a trip to a sleepy bar, the television in the background is showing one of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns and not, for example, A Fish Called Wanda. Clooney is the lone gunslinger who rides into a strange town and connects with a couple of people before his past catches up with him. This is a western wrapped up in an Abruzzo tourism brochure, but that’s OK. I now know it’s my favourite kind of cowboy film.

Clooney does connect with a couple of people. He connects with the local priest (Paolo Bonacelli) who, intrigued by the state of his soul, befriends him. And he connects with Clara (Violante Placido), an insanely beautiful bilingual prostitute who should really be in the movies but, I suppose, a career choice is a career choice and if George Clooney were to truck up one day as your client, would you necessarily think it a bad choice? He is just a trick to Clara at first but, after their knee-wateringly luscious sex, she decides to waive the fee, as you reasonably might. He falls for her, and she him.

As a story, there is nothing new in this; nothing new at all. Can our hero stop being what he has been until now? How heavy does his past weigh on him? Can he be redeemed by romance? Can he get away from those who do not wish him to get away? ‘I’m out,’ Clooney tells his boss, yet we know his boss isn’t going to leave it there. There is nothing new in any of this, but it is so gripping and stylish and tense, why would it matter? It did not matter a jot to me. I just wanted to know what was going to happen, as did my watery knees.

Look, there are no laughs in this at all. The dialogue is sparse and terse. Nothing is spelt out. We know people are after Clooney, but we do not know who, or why. Clooney’s performance is broody and melancholic. He is not allowed a single smile, or even an expression. He does it all with a slight turn of the head, a move of the eyes. He does not do very much but, on the whole, I would prefer to see George Clooney not doing very much than see two cars chasing each other at high speed, rolling over and then, perhaps, bursting into flames. This may even be my favourite, non-action action film of all time. Yes, I think it is.


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