“The American” in Europe

“The American”

dir. Andrew Corbijn

Like Leo DiCaprio’s Teddy in “Shutter Island” George Clooney’s Jack in “The American” is a man on the run from himself. A man of violence wanting nothing more than redemption – whose hand has been forced to murder the women in his life via a combination of internal and external forces. The similarities between the two films does not end with their protagonists; both are relatively long, stylized exercises in atmosphere and aesthetics, where landscapes – isolated and darkly serene – stand in for human emotion and character.

Where “Island” draws from an overabundance of backstory and exposition to keep its tale of psychological trauma afloat, “The American” keeps things lean and in the present. Each approach defining/reinforcing their main characters. Teddy hides in his tragic, convoluted past, Jack in the here and now. Where “Island” repeatedly ventures into a quais-surrealist dreamscapes of Teddy’s subconscious, “The American” keeps the narrative on a tight leash, revealing little of Jack to the audience, save for a few thrifty glimpses here and there.

While some viewers may be taken aback by a thriller with such methodical (read: slow) pacing, it is effective, in so far as it communicates the necessary mood of isolation and foreboding. However,“The American” makes one critical mistake in its execution, which is especially evident in its use of potted dialogue. It confuses ambiguity and ambience for profundity. The film is rich in texture – exploiting the local colour of the Italian countryside – but ultimately thin on substance. Its use of silence could have been more effective if the result wasn’t so muted or understated.

As if to illustrate this point – somewhat awkwardly- the director has “Once Upon a Time in the West” play on a TV set during one particularly subdued scene. Nowhere else is Leone’s mastery of the soundtrack more evident than in “Once Upon a Time in the West” where long bouts of brooding silence are interrupted by terrible outbursts of violence. I can only assume that director Corbijn was attempting a similar effect but where Leone thundered, Corbijn offers only a dull roar.

However lofty Corbijn’s aspirations may have been for this film, he does not seem to have indulged himself, exercising a degree of discipline and relative expediency in his storytelling that is admirable.

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