Clooney’s ‘The American’: star power and atmosphere

Nate Lessler

Don’t be fooled by the title or George Clooney: “The American” is a foreign film at heart. Employing few characteristics of modern American cinema, moviegoers who attend Anton Corbijn’s latest film expecting a fast-paced and explosion-heavy action/thriller will be sorely disappointed. Unlike almost all contemporary American thrillers, “The American” offers a fascinating character study that is quiet, slowly paced and beautifully shot.

Clooney plays an American assassin who wants to get out of the business. While the true name of his character is never revealed, he does respond to multiple pseudonyms including Jack, Edward and Mr. Butterfly. The film follows “Mr. Butterfly” as he  hides out in a small town in the mountains of Italy and attempts to complete one last job. Soon after arriving in the town, he becomes acquainted with a priest by the name of Father Benedetto (Paola Bonacelli), and romantically involved with a prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido). Before long, Mr. Butterfly realizes that someone wants him dead.

The audience is never provided with any back story of how Mr. Butterfly came to be an assassin, nor is it made clear why someone is trying to kill him. However, this mystery makes the identity of Mr. Butterfly all the more fascinating. Unlike most Hollywood protagonists, Mr. Butterfly is not easy to pinpoint. Although Clooney provides a solid performance as an aging assassin, he fails to do anything he hasn’t done before. In fact, the character of Mr. Butterfly is very similar to some of the other roles that Clooney has played in recent years.

While most Hollywood thrillers would attempt to captivate the audience with loud sounds and flashy effects,The American” instead relies on an atmospheric score and beautiful cinematography. “The American” is so well shot that every frame of the film could be an individual photograph in an art gallery.

By moving at a slower pace than conventional Hollywood films, “The American” allows the audience to absorb and truly appreciate the beauty in each shot. Through its distinct aesthetic elements, “The American” is just as engrossing as any American thriller.

Despite its international lens, “The American”  managed to snag first place at the box office opening weekend: a feat that a foreign film could never accomplish in America, almost exclusively due to Clooney’s star power. Because of this, “The American” overcomes what independent or foreign films are largely unexpected to do, which is finding a larger market outside indie theaters. This is further illustrated by its showing at Grand Cinemas in Walla Walla.

It seems unlikely, however, that American audiences will take kindly to the film. Not because they are not  worldly enough to appreciate it, but rather that they will be unable of letting go of their genre expectations of a film advertised as Clooney’s latest action/thriller.