It’s surprising to me in reading critical reaction to Anton Corbijn’s The American that so many viewers consider Clooney to be the saving grace of the melancholy film. While I’ll be the first to admit that without Clooney’s interest in the project it likely doesn’t get made, as far as his presence in the cast is concerned, quite the opposite is the case here — Clooney is the problem. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as much a fan of the actor as the next guy, but he is a man with a very particular set of skills, and what he has to offer isn’t very conducive to this sort of work. Lest ye forget, we are talking about the same guy that got raked over the coals repeatedly during his E.R. days for acting all of his scenes with his head bowed while looking up at his costars. It was Clooney’s go-to “blue steel” back in those days, and well, he went with it often. (It’s also not lost on me that the image of Clooney on the poster for The American finds him exactly this way.) Of course he’s come a long way since then, and with the exception of the career trajectory of one Tom Hanks, it’s fair to suggest that no other performer has come so far.
I actually like to think of him as the modern day Gary Cooper. Like Coop, Clooney is a deliberate performer who does not articulate his performances with a ton of acting tics. He’s cautious, quiet, and deliberate in his movements, yet there’s a quality of self-assuredness resounding in his screen persona that makes him special. While Cooper constantly battled his gangly tallness (in 1938’s The Cowboy and the Lady his character is actually named Stretch), Clooney has to deal with clumsiness. He’s an awkward mover — look closely enough at his films and you’ll see it. George moves so awkwardly that he brings to mind a good-looking Walter Matthau. Watch his flat-footed running in The American, Oh Brother, or Burn After Reading and you’ll see what I mean. The filmmakers try to hide it, as they so often do, but it’s there. In the end, George does his best work in fast films where he’s the placid center around which everything else revolves: Up in the Air, Michael Clayton, Syriana, and so on. In a film such as The American, when nothing else moves, Clooney simply becomes part of the landscape. He just lacks the gravity to capture our imagination through the long sequences of screen time that find his character exploring the small village, or is simply lost in thought. After watching the film, consider instead the role as Sean Penn, Edward Norton, or better yet, a youthful DeNiro or Eastwood may have interpreted it: simmering, vibrant…alive.
This is nevertheless a good film, beautifully rendered and deliberately paced — punctuated with a few well placed action sequences and erotic moments. If given the choice of experiencing the film with Clooney, or not at all, I’ll happily accept it as offered, and wonder.
Finally, let me apologize for the long gap in posts. The film noir poster countdown over at Where Danger Lives consumed a great deal more of my time than I ever imagined, and I was forced to neglect Cin-Eater for a little while. Hopefully I can return to regular posting very soon!
The American (2010)
Directed by Anton Corbijn
Starring George Clooney
Released by Focus Features
Running time: 105 minutes
Availability: Not a problem.