I love the movie Control. Control was about the lead singer of Joy Division, Ian Curtis, who committed suicide just as the band was taking off. I am a big fan of the band and I thought that Anton Corbijn captured not only Ian Curtis but also the time that he grew up very well. Corbijn showed a reverence to the story and the characters that I hadn’t seen in a biopic before. He knew Ian Curtis and understood why he did the things he did. His mastery of the medium was extraordinary for a first time feature filmmaker. So when he moved on to his second feature, I was excited to see it. I figured he would bring the same reverence for mood and character to an overdone genre of an assassin on one last job. I was wrong.
The American is about a master gun craftsman living in Italy. He, played by George Clooney, is a lonely man who wants to escape into retirement, but is persuaded by his boss to take one last job. He assembles the gun with quiet mastery. But his life is anything but quiet. He courts the friendship of a local priest. He frequents he same prostitute and falls for her and he is followed by mysterious men that might have been connected to the people who tried to kill him in the opening scene. Tension builds and everything comes to a head, eventually. Key word there is eventually.
This film felt like a rote copy of several cool hit man movies in the sixties and seventies. Movies like Le Samourai and Day of the Jackal concern themselves with the process and everyday events in a hit man’s life, just like the American did. The difference in my viewpoint is that while you see minute things with no emotion to them in Le Samourai and Day of the Jackal, they all lead to a richer interpretation of the character. But in the American, the hit man is thrust into situations where he is forced to interact with people while still revealing absolutely nothing about himself. Every conversation is completely one sided with the other person doing all of the talking and him just sort of grunting. This makes the side characters infinitely more fascinating than the hit man himself. Corbijn forgot to show that the character is interesting or worth the investment in this two hour movie. He seemed hell bent on alienating his viewers at every turn. I am all for pushing the envelope, but please do it with something that didn’t make want to fall asleep every ten minutes.