Thursday, January 6, 2011

The American (Anton Corbijn, 2010) -- B-

There's nothing inherently wrong with Anton Corbijn's The American - it's well-shot, paced, and executed. If only it were deeper, fresher, and had more to absorb. Corbijn's sensibilities are in the right place, building tension through gradual character revelation and contemplative ennui rather than dormant chase sequences or uninspired showdowns. Channeling the pathos of Jean-Pierre Melville (and John Woo after him) is a valid pursuit, but as with most films comprising the last decade of postmodernist efforts, there's not nearly as much revisionism as one may desire, nor enough cinematic prowess from filmmakers mimicking their idols. Such is the issue with The American - it simply pales by comparison, especially since screenwriter Rowan Joffe musters less than half a dozen memorable lines or scenes, opting for obvious ambivalence over rigorous struggle. This entails surface questions of existential angst, fatalistic doom, and love that cannot continue because of the protagonist's prior sins. A lead-pipe irony brings the narrative full circle, as the titular antihero (George Clooney) has been constructing a weapon meant to be used on...himself. Thus, his work is figuratively (emotionally) and potentially literally (physically) self-effacing. Corbijn can't seem to help himself in revealing influences either, as Once a Time in the West plays in the background of a bar, with a character eventually commenting "Sergio Leone...Italian, the best." My guess is Corbijn would agree and that's fine - but what would be even more of a blessing is a filmmaker who actually possessed a personal vision, something outstanding in its own right, rather than continually and explicitly aping from the past.

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