George and “The American”

Following yesterday’s movie-minded blog post:

This is a review of the flick The American, helmed by Anton Corbijn, and typed by Rowan Jaffee (yes, the son-of-Jaffee) from a novel by Martin Booth, with the much-better title of A Very Private Gentleman.

I met George Clooney once.  It was the summer of 2001, and my friend and I had seen the same Lonergan play he had.  We accosted him outside the theater (another friend of ours was in a play the next night, and we wanted a personalized, autographed program as a joke gift) and he couldn’t have been more obliging, or more kind.  (Would a non-good guy do this?)

I mention this as not only does Clooney seem like– in fact, demonstrated he was– a good guy, but he’s also the kind of big-time movie star who takes risks.  Sometimes these risks pay off well (Three Kings, Goodnight and Good Luck, and the worthy-of-the-top-of-your-queue Michael Clayton), sometimes they don’t (The Good German, Letterheads, The Men Who Stare at Goats).

But that’s okay when these risks don’t pay off.  Noble failure is always more engaging than safe success, at least on the big screen, anyway.  And with this in mind we come to The American.

Based solely on the poster, I had high hopes for this picture; the poster just screams 1970’s moviemaking, doesn’t it?  And there are moments that go right (in the first minute of the flick we are both genuinely surprised and understand Clooney’s double-named character immediately) and everything looks picture-perfect–  Italy!  The clothes!  it’s George Clooney!– the movie is like a bad one-night stand:  It’s all set-up and almost no-payoff.

The American aspires to be one of those great spy pictures (and has a few leaden-dialogue clichés that you, frankly, crave in those pictures), but if you stumbled upon it on the late show on TV you’d have fallen asleep in your comfy chair by midnight.  Which is to say, The American isn’t American at all:  It is slow.

And sometimes that is fine, sometimes that let’s it ratchet serious tension and show off Clooney’s understated, excellent performance.  But (spoiler alert!) mostly that is death, as we figure out way before George does that A) the pretty, mysterious woman he’s selling a gun to is, in fact, going to use said gun to kill George!; and B) they both work for a mysterious, white-haired boss who will kill them both!

What isn’t quite fine is we never learn why anyone’s doing these  things.  Yes, along the way there’s a vaguely satisfying Vespa-chase, a romance with a prostitute that titillates the audience, and pretty pictures, but…  it’s a noble failure.

Which is fine sometimes.  I suspect, like most people, I would rather watch a mediocre spy flick than a mediocre romantic comedy because there’s more there to watch.  And I give good George credit for saying yes to a spy picture in which there are no other name actors (at least, in America) and little movement.  But do yourself a favor:  Stay home and Netflix Michael Clayton.

Faux '70's moviemaking.

True '70's moviemaking.

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2 Responses to “George and “The American””

  1. Patricia and “Cairo Time” « Wally's Blog Says:

    […] By thiswaytotheegress In continuing our recent spate of movie coverage (including Mr. G. Clooney and The American, here’s a review of Cairo Time, from the writer / director Ruba Nadda, and […]

  2. Um, It’s, Well, Kind of an Okay Movie « Wally's Blog Says:

    […] writing about movies before, this blog has noted that expectations are everything.  And going into a flick from the team […]

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