I have not seen Control, Anton Corbijn’s earlier movie, so the idea of a famous photographer directing a movie is quite interesting. The American is Corbijn’s first foray into fiction, as Control was based on the life of Ian Curtis, the late singer of Joy Division. The American is based on Martin Booth’s novel A Very Private Gentleman, telling the story of an assassin and gunsmith who flees and hides in Italy after a botched job in Sweden.
The movie kicks off in Sweden where Jack (George Clooney) is situated, apparently after a job, spending time with his girlfriend Ingrid (Irina Björklund). Jack is found by Swedish hitmen and because of this decides to go and hide in Italy. This is where Jack, appearing as a photographer and now calling himself Edward, intends to perform his last job, a custom gun order, and then retire from being an assassin. He also falls in love with a local prostitute and befriends an old priest with a dark past. Looking at the collection of characters it is apparent that the movie is no light entertainment, and probably due to Corbijn’s career as a photographer the movie is very static, both in suspense and slow pace.
The movie has a plethora of lingering shots and scenes both in the small town of Castel Del Monte and the surrounding landscapes, and the nature actually draws a few parallels to Jack, who has a butterfly tattoo in his upper back and studies them for his own amusement, going even so far that the two important ladies of the story, Clara the prostitute (Violante Placido) and Jack’s customer Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), nickname Jack as Mr Butterfly. An observant viewer may notice butterflies in the important scenes of the movie, some of them very apparent but some more subtle than others.
The music compliments many of the scenes very well, with a selection of pre-existing songs like Tu vuò fà l’americano (You pretend to be American, ironically), and score by Herbert Grönemeyer. There are lots of quiet moments too, and they are very suspenseful, even though there is only a slight amount of action and add to the paranoia that Jack feels, making the viewer relate to the character. The town itself seems to be an actor on its own, as its maze-like streets are narrow and full of turns and layers upon layers, much like the mind of a killer. Clooney also makes a convincing yet subdued performance as an assassin grown tired of his ways looking for some peace of his own.
What bothered me about the movie was the almost complete lack of a backstory, both character-wise and story wise. There are no clues given to what Jack has been doing before the events of the movie, why he is being persecuted and what it is that seems to be bothering him. Who are the people who keep searching for him, mysteriously only recognised as ‘the Swedes’, and what has Jack done to piss them off so that they’ll come looking for him all the way to Italy. The characters are hardly fleshed out, yet they somehow manage to feel like complete characters, in a way. Yet I couldn’t ignore the need to know a bit more about what has transpired before that has lead to these events. Maybe that’s what adds to the intrigue of the movie, which makes you want to come back to it again to maybe understand more of the story, the characters and their motives.
I did like the movie, although at the end I was feeling perplexed and confused, yet satisfied. It is refreshing for a change to watch a slow-paced thriller with hardly any action that still seems to hold a lot of events. The cinematography is very gripping and memorable, especially if European and Italian landscapes are your cup of espresso. What I don’t suggest you do is to go and see this movie with expectations of seeing George Clooney play James Bond or Jason Bourne packed with high octane action. This is a slow, thoughtful and quiet thriller about a man with a dark past on the getaway, a perfect choice if you want something to evoke your imagination and are bored of the regular glorifying Hollywood action movies of spies and assassins. It does have its flaws in the story, yet nevertheless being a captivating piece of European cinema.