Photographer-turned film director Anton Corbijn follows his haunting debut, the Ian Curtis biopic Control, with a film that moves him onto a bigger cinematic stage (thanks to its leading man George Clooney) while simultaneously allowing him to delve into more personal thematic territory. The American confirms Corbijn as a confident and uniquely gifted filmmaker, but be warned, it is an intentionally slow-moving film, featuring Clooney’s most defiantly subdued performance to date.
The story, adapted from Martin Booth’s novel A Very Private Gentleman, involves Jack (Clooney), an ageing gunsmith forced to go into hiding when an attempt is made on his life. He holes up in Castelvecchio, a beautiful historic Italian village, and there develops tentative connections with a priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and a prostitute (Violante Placido), both of whom provoke him to consider the value of his life up to this point. Meanwhile, Jack becomes increasingly aware that his pursuers are closing in and time is running out.
The scenario will be familiar to anyone who’s ever watched a western, but the simplicity is intentional; Corbijn is interested in the ways in which simple surfaces, including the beautiful surfaces of this film, relate to deeper realities. He continually draws attention to Jack’s physical routines – from his constant gum-chewing to the literal routine of having sex – to question whether the routine is an end in itself, or if it must find meaning at a deeper level; a human connection that goes beyond physicality or a spiritual one that allows physical routines to come to rest.
The American is released on 26th November. This review first published in The List magazine.