Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The American
(Anton Corbijn, 2010)

I’d be more inclined to recommend Anton Corbijn’s moody thriller if it didn’t borrow so heavily from other, greater filmmakers: nineties-era Abbas Kiarostami (in its attention to the spatial environment of villages and long shots of cars driving on deserted roads), Jean-Pierre Melville (in its overall mood and tone, not to mention its sexist depiction of women as exclusively betrayers or whores), and Jim Jarmusch (whose underrated The Limits of Control this film essentially copies in its foreign-based geography, repressed action, and minimalist acting of its lead). To his credit, Corbijn sandwiches these second-rate derivations between a nice anti-Hollywood opening and a fairly satisfying conclusion. I also find Corbijn’s film vastly more preferable than his arty Ian Curtis biopic, Control, even if some of that film’s irritating tendencies to make a religious martyr of its self-loathing protagonist seep into this film via a series of trite conversations on sin and guilt between George Clooney and an elderly Catholic priest played by Paolo Bonacelli (an Italian actor whose past involvements in Caligula and Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom likely invest his character with more dark nuances than his performance actually deserves). Corbijn’s film is better when it stops trying to underscore itself with Big Themes and simply concentrates on the ceremonial routines of Clooney’s custom arms maker, where the clickety-clack assemblage of disparate gunnery pieces achieves a kind of aural purity. Such scenes never quite reach the sensual spirituality that Robert Bresson achieved through sound in films like Lancelot du lac, but they are nevertheless the only moments when Corbijn’s film acquires some depth and is not merely a surface-level imitation.

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