Clooney’s Shooting Blanks The American is a pretentious portrait of a hitman.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
I didn’t think it was possible. I was certain that there was no movie that I could not endure if it meant I could gaze at George Clooney for two hours.
I was wrong. I enjoy being wrong. But I would have preferred to enjoy The American. It was tough even to ease into some serious fantasizing about Clooney’s morose, laconic hitman, because he’s so, you know, morose, and spends much of the movie with his back nervously to us, as if, perhaps, we were sharing the perspective of the other hitmen who are out to get him. It’s all good for Clooney and his Art, I suppose, to wallow so sleekly, so handsomely, so tersely in his regrets or whatever the hell is bothering him.
Make no mistake: This is not George Clooney Goes Jason Bourne. It’s not Ocean’s Fourteen. This is an anti-action, Hollywood-negating art film about death and high-powered weapons and the men who make death via high-powered weapons a calling, only to later discover that it’s not work that makes for a comfortable retirement, or, indeed, for any retirement at all. Sure, a professional assassin might get to enjoy an idyllic Swedish winterlude with a hot naked chick once in a while, but that can’t end well, not when it comes right at the beginning of the film. Perhaps when a weary hitman hightails it to a rural mountain in Italy to hide out in the aftermath, he might encounter an elderly priest (Paolo Bonacelli) with whom he can understatedly compare and contrast himself, and maybe even a gorgeous prostitute (Violante Placido) with a heart of gold to warm his bed. If a weary hitman is very lucky, she’ll be as weary as him, and will actually like the fact that he tells her he’s not interested in giving pleasure, only taking it. Until, of course, she falls in love with him precisely because he’s such a bitter, souless bastard…
It’s all based on a novel by Martin Booth called A Very Private Gentleman, and I can’t help but wonder if maybe there are some things so private that are better left to literature. Not things that shouldn’t be depicted on film, but things that can’t be depicted on film. Such as the internal meanderings of a man who doesn’t talk much and reveals no emotion except suspicion. Presumably screenwriter Rowan Joffe knows what’s supposed to be going through his protagonist’s head, and presumably Clooney does too. I wish they’d shared it with us. Unless the point is that the hitman is an emotionless automaton. But that’s not terribly introspective, either.
Bored? I can’t say I was bored by The American: who doesn’t enjoy artistically chilly visual sterility once in a while, or characters who don’t talk to one another because, honestly, life is so meaningless?Instead of bored, I was a little bit infuriated, perhaps – in a smooth, polished, European sort of way. Que sera sera, whatever will be bleak and nihilistic will be.