The American (2010, USA, Anton Corbijn): 10/10
Over the years, I have seen some wonderful film posters in New Delhi, Mumbai, Madrid, Rotterdam, Paris & London but the only posters that I have come across in Canada have been run of the mill dull copies promoting the next commercial venture. Which is why I stopped in my tracks when I laid my eyes on The American's poster.
This stunning poster etched out a 1960's-70's time period with George Clooney appearing to be a James Bond like figure. A lone man, a hero?, dashing away with a gun in his hand away from the watchful eye of a woman (femme fatale?) in the background.
That was it. For the first time in my life, I made up my mind to watch a film based on a poster. The only other information I bothered to look up was the director's name. I avoided reading the story or seeing the trailer.
A gamble of sorts.
And remarkably, the gamble paid off nicely because The American is a beautiful, rewarding artful film. It is a film that allows us to calmly admire the Italian landscape and quietly observe Jack/Edward (Clooney) at work or during his moments of lovemaking to a beautiful Italian woman named Clara (Violante Placido). There is no needless dialogue to take us away from the events filling the frame and the expressions of the characters give enough clues as to their motives. No time is wasted in explaining Jack's background but there are enough clues presented to allow viewers to fill in their own version of a back story. Also, the film cleverly creates moments of tension with simple situations and a rich soundtrack.
Now, Jack is not a stranger to the cinematic screen after all. Variations of his lonely assassin for hire have graced cinema for decades be it in the form of a spy, an outlaw (say in a Sergio Leone film) or a criminal but the big difference that Anton Corbijn and writer Rowan Joffe have made is to remove bloodshed and explosive action sequences from the equation. As a result, the film is a polished and thoughtful work of art that is completely engaging.
Lonely men in Europe sitting in a cafe
The closest association to The American in my mind is Jim Jarmusch's wonderful The Limits of Control as the main characters in both films are assassins who travel across Europe, spend time enjoying a cup of coffee in a cafe and cross paths with interesting enticing women. The one big difference is that The Limits of Control has an element of humour around it whereas The American is a bit more serious although it does contain brief moments of lightness. Also, The Limits of Control presents the story in abstract clues that have to be put together whereas most details in The American are presented clearly as the story moves along.
Surpizingly both The Limits of Control and The American have been savaged by North American critics for being "pretentious art house films". Hmmm. Both films have long takes, little dialogue and no loud explosions. So are those enough reasons to dismiss these films? Hardly. And even the nudity in The American has gotten some complaints as it has been used as an excuse to further the film's European art-house label.
For me The American is one of the best films of the year. Yet, I have a feeling this film will be quietly ignored by most even though it can be found playing in a multiplex. But this is a film that deserves to be seen.