If Joel Schumacher can be credited with one good deed, it’s for permanently slapping some sense into George Clooney. Following the garish, rubber-nippled fiasco of Batman & Robin, Clooney has embarked on one of the most fascinating careers in Hollywood, using the momentum from the occasional blockbuster to fuel a series of ambitious 1970s throwbacks. Not every experiment works, but full credit to him for consistently coloring outside of the lines.
The Clooney-produced hit-man drama The American stands as a deliberate throwdown to modern shakey-cam thrillers: reflective, steadily paced, and as moody and arty and Euro-sexed as a movie with homemade silencers and exploding bullets can be. Shaking off one’s kinetic Bourne expectations can be difficult at first, but if you can get yourself on The American’s melancholy, occasionally pokey wavelength, it more than scores.
Beginning with a notably bloodthirsty snow-drenched prologue, director Anton Corbijn’s film follows an on-the-outs assassin lying low in a remote Italian village. Tasked with supplying a rifle for an upcoming hit, he forms a tentative relationship with a prostitute, as the clock steadily runs out. Corbijn’s chilly, high-angled style favorably evokes Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger, as well as that hazy 1960s period when out-of-fashion movie stars found themselves cast in stylized European films in order to shore up the international box office. (The brief glimpse of Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West is far from random.) What really makes The American linger, however, is its star, who ditches most of his trademark affectations (there’s not a single smirk or head bob to be found) and delivers a fascinatingly controlled, furiously internal performance. By turning off the charm, he’s somehow become cooler than ever.