Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The American

Directed by: Anton Corbijn

Produced by:
George Clooney
Grant Heslov
Anne Carey
Jill Green
Ann Wingate

Written by: Rowan Joffe

Story by: Martin Booth (A Very Private Gentleman novel)

George Clooney
Violante Placido
Thelka Reuten
Paolo Bonacelli
Irina Bjorklund

Music by: Herbert Gronemeyer

Cinematography by: Martin Ruhe

Editing by: Andrew Hulme

Smokehouse Pictures
This Is That Inc.
Greenlit Productions

Distributed by: Focus Features

Release date(s):
September 1, 2010 (United States, Canada and Kazakhstan)
November 26, 2010 (United Kingdom and Ireland)

Running time: 103 minutes

Country: United States


Budget: $20 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $64, 662, 422

Being the opening paragraph, basically just a paragraph that exists to get my juices flowing, I would like to open on an unrelated topic. It is still a film, so at least there is credibility to the fact that I have opted not to discuss the topic at hand. A few years ago, Righteous Kill, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, was heavily slated by critics. However, I was in HMV, and decided to buy a £3 copy: it's De Niro and Pacino, it can't be that bad. You know what? It isn't that bad. Granted, it is a hugely predictable movie with a script right out of the textbook, but it is still a watchable, 6/10 movie that is worth at least one viewing. And hello to Brian Dennehy.

So, now that I'm done, let's crack open the egg and contemplate The American. I won't lie, the first I heard of this was seeing a paperback copy of the book the film is based on (A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth) and didn't really care much for seeing it, despite George Clooney's presence. However, what eventually got me onto the film was the fact that the director was Anton Corbijn. I was a fan of Anton Corbijn through his music videos and the magnificent Control, in which Sam Riley mesmerises as Ian Curtis. Being his first film since Control, The American suddenly came upon my radar as a work that had to be seen. Then, I saw an episode on Film 2010, in which Claudia Winkleman and Danny Leigh spoke highly of the film. Their words regarding the film's marketing were what got me going. Marketing makes this look like a Bourne-esque action-thriller, which it certainly isn't. I went to the Odyssey cinema by myself and got perfect middle seating, ready to digest the film.

In The American, perhaps the most vague title to come along in a while (though it is a completely appropriate title); George Clooney plays Jack, plays an assassin and customised arms maker. Truth be told, that is all you are going to get with regards to plot details. I went into The American with a blank slate plot wise, and the film was all the better for it. Given the film's nature as a mystery (not the genre), the unfolding of the plot is important to the film's power.

Starting as ever with the film's pros, the acting in The American is fabulous. George Clooney gives the best performance that I have ever seen him deliver as Jack. A very talented actor, Clooney backpedals from the 'star' persona that his public image has given him. Clooney gives Jack a mysterious nature: much of the 'acting' is based upon facial expressions. Clooney is able to pull this off, because one he has an expressive face, and two because he is damn good. The line between 'saying things' and 'not saying things' with his facial expressions is balanced with grace. You are able to read Clooney's face, yet he doesn’t give us enough to come to definitive conclusions. Also, his movements are amazing. Watching Clooney walk as Jack is a thing of beauty. His movements are very precise, practiced, although not robotic by any means. There is the sense that underneath this well-oiled machine exterior, a wolf is in waiting, ready to snap out at any moment. This contrast between the mechanical exterior and the flesh and blood animal within is something that Clooney handles with amazing diligence. I could harp on more and more about his performance, but that would include spoilers, and I really want people to see The American. If Clooney did not give such a good performance, the film would have fell flat on its face, but it doesn't and it stands up with pride. This is the best lead male acting performance I have seen all year and Clooney will probably win my year-end award for Best Lead Male Actor if no one else shows him up. Also, while we are on the topic of acting, each of the supporting actors are also great. With Clooney's Jack the centerpiece, they serve a more symbolic purpose, although they do a fine job. I would like to single out in particular, Violante Placido, who is wonderful, and Paolo Bonacelli, for the serving of the character's symbolic purpose is excellent.

Credit must be given where it is due, and in this sense, Anton Corbijn is the bearer of a heavy burden. Having proved himself as a fabulous filmmaker with Control, one of the best films of 2006, The American confirms him as one of the most important filmmakers in the world. It speaks highly of his skills that he is able to go from Control, a low-key, low-budget biopic of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, to The American, a $20,000,000 budgeted film set in a number of European locations with George Clooney. Though both character studies, The American is a very different beast, yet Corbijn directs like a man who knows exactly what he is doing. Plotted out meticulously, Corbijn's good sense informs him of all the moves to make. He is a very wise man whose creative output, which has since the 1980's been stellar, seems to go from leap and bigger leap as his film career continues. What could have been an overlong, pretentious art-house film is turned in his hands into an art-house film that is incredibly watchable and entertaining.

Corbijn's experience as a cinematographer and music video director gives him an advantage over most directors in terms of their visual eye. His choice of Martin Ruhe, who has worked with Corbijn on Control and numerous music videos, is appropriate. Being a 'European' film in terms of location and nature, it is only right that the scenery is captured correctly. This is done so to perfection, with every shot in the film being picaresque and the kind of thing you would want to hang up on the wall. Also, I like the way that Ruhe goes for the static camera in a lot of shots, turning on its position. This creates a sense of place and location, and gives us a great amount of visual information without having to be explicitly said. Also, the cinematography, although being a 'real-world film', contributes a stylised sheen that gives the film a sense of things being hyper-realised and an accentuated collection of imagery. However, the cinematography would not work without the right hands editing. Andrew Hulme makes the right cuts, letting shots continue uncut for longer than average shot length, even in the 'action' scenes. The lingering images that Hulme opts not to cut resonate, and although Ruhe did a tremendous job of this, I do not think that their power would have been as impactful without Hulme's editing. It is work that is very generous, for no tricks are pulled in post-production, no little effects or graphics, Hulme placing enough faith in the images that Ruhe has captured. Both men should very proud of their work.

The following paragraph is going to be dedicated to the discussion of sound in general, regarding the original score, sound and sound editing. Herbert Gronemeyer composes some good themes. During the opening credit sequence, we are given the treat of hearing a fabulous opening theme that puts much of the new James Bond themes to shame. Although aurally silent for much of the film, the contributions of Gronemeyer's score come in for the most part at the right time. The sound of silence adds another layer to the film. We hear cars engines, the wind and every intonation that the actors make in their voices. Although objectively speaking, as audiences, we are given the 'vision of God' in the film, seeing all, hearing all, the sound contributes to the development of Jack as a character. The gunshots are incredibly loud so that each of the action scenes shock: they come out of nowhere and are boldly choreographed. Jack is affected mentally by his constant awareness of danger, for every time he hears a loud noise, it shocks him (and the audience), creating an instinctive response that gives the message 'GUN!' Sound is very important in The American, and it is utilised wonderfully.

Finally, the script must be discussed, for it both one of the film's greatest strengths and the film's greatest weakness. It is written by Rowan Joffe, son of Roland Joffe, who made the great films The Killing Fields and The Mission (and, eh, Super Mario Bros.), one of the scribes on 28 Weeks Later. Already having wrote a very good action film, Rowan's work on this film is great. The structure of the screenplay is solid and tight, ensuring that barely any of the film's problems stick out. Also, the dialogue that he has written is tremendous, every line resonating. Nonetheless, Joffe opts for the 'visual dialogue', as opposed to the script being too wordy. This is a wise decision that benefits the film to no end. However, problems do emerge from the script. Although for the most part brilliantly written, the central idea itself is nothing new. Granted, this is about as good an execution of an old idea you are going to get, but the whole 'lone assassin' thing has been done so many times. In 1962, Clint Eastwood became 'The Man With No Name' (a falsity in itself, this being the American marketing term for the main character of the 'Dollars Trilogy', which aren't really a trilogy) in A Fistful Of Dollars. Although Eastwood is perhaps the most memorable, it was done before, Fistful being a remake of Akira Kurosawa's 1961 Yojimbo. Anyway, the point is that for a film that nigh on perfect in nearly every other department, it is a shame that it does follow a tried-and-tested formula. Also, to finish on the cons, of which as you can see there are few, but the score by Herbert Gronemeyer does intrude in parts. This rather irritates, for the film has a unique feeling, and then the score kind-of muddles up this self-contained universe. However, it works wonderfully in the credits sequence and the ending/end-credits.

Well, one might have guessed that I liked The American. I didn't just like it: I loved it. Although no new story by any means, The American is a masterful film. Rowan Joffe's script is wonderful for the most part. It boasts a stellar turn from George Clooney, whose performance as Jack balances perfectly his being a fully-fleshed character, yet still a complete mystery. Also, Violante Placido and Paolo Bonacelli are great in the symbolic roles that they play. Anton Corbijn proves himself as an important filmmaker for years to come. The cinematography and editing by Martin Ruhe and Andrew Hulme respectively create a visually sensational work. Aurally, we are plunged into the character of Jack, thanks to some good contribution from Herbert Gronemeyer and the wise artistic decision regarding the contrasts between silence and VERY loud gun noises. Ultimately, everyone involved has created a self-contained universe that, while not an 'original' work, is unique, emotionally gripping and wholly satisfying.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Fond, despite a headache (not from the guns, but my own stupidity at not getting enough sleep)


Danland - Movies said...

Huh, surprised you thought it was this good, should have checked it out before making my end of year awards and lists which (shameless self promotion) are up now

The Thin White Dude said...

Don't be ashamed mate. If anything I should be ashamed for taking over a month to get back. Beginning the preliminaries on year-end, but space still for other movies.