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The American

George Clooney, it seems, is irked by the memory of donning the Batsuit in much the same way that his knife-edge protagonist in The American is troubled by the backfiring exhaust of a pootering Vespa. How else can you explain the uniform melancholy of most of his recent films? And who would begrudge him the odd rom-com holiday?

Not that any of those inferred films have been remotely bad, nor Clooney in any of them. And The American is no different in that it is an impressive, boldly quiet thriller.

Clooney is an archetype in a film with a ready supply. He’s the stranger arriving in an unfamiliar town – we also have the equally mysterious contact, of indeterminate Euro-origin, responsible, to an uncertain degree, with the itinerary of Clooney’s nomadic gun-for-hire. Then there’s the tart-with-a-heart; the inscrutable fellow assassin; the kindly priest. But it’s to director Anton Corbijn’s credit that you never want to take him up on the simplicity of characterisation. His beguiling, unfussily impressive direction, coupled with a fine, admirably impervious script from Rowan Joffe make for an intriguing and fastidiously elegant addition to the lone hitman oeuvre.

Clooney wanders through and lives alone in un-named Italian town, recently relocated following a dismally ineffective attempt on his life at a snowbound hideaway. There he was dishevelled, bearded (bearded is cinematic shorthand for ‘all at sea’) and of seemingly bothered aspect. Now he is clean-shaven, trim and more presentably tortured.

He wends his fraught way through cobbled, empty streets a la Jarmusch or Antonioni, ill-at-ease and hand on gun, pursued by any number of unseen antagonists who may well imminently emerge from a shadow-shrouded hideout. We are never fed any backstory as to the nature of his status as quarry-to-many, and we don’t need one: it’s enough to suggest as much as he wrestles with his fate and restlessly carries out his new job – fashioning a super-quiet-yet-long-range gun from whatever materials he can find (they’re all placed within easy reach in a local mechanic’s – the bastard son of the priest, ye who may judge a merciless killer – garage) for a fellow rubber-out of random rogues.

He’s lonely and, as suggested by his ‘boss’, is ‘losing his edge’ – he’s slipping the mask and nudging inexorably towards normal life, manifest in both his easy engagement with an elderly, aphorism-happy priest and his nascent entwining with a beautiful, red-light nightly consort. He struggles to distance himself from both his own sense of mistrust and his encroaching love-sickness, and whilst the consequences are fairly predictable, they are handled with a poignant eloquence not unworthy of the aforementioned Antonioni.

Clooney is reliably excellent (but then, he should be by now: he loves these nerve-jangled, self-defeating, adrift-loner types) and Corbijn predictably provides a beautifully rendered landscape, both panoramic and claustrophobic, in which to entangle his players. The sense of isolation is exacerbated by this quieted idyll and the film is starkly and expertly lit in unequivocally bleak hues. Corbijn may unavoidably continue to make similarly assured but unhappy films and this, whilst limiting, is no serious critique. He does it well.

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