What I’ve Been Watching: The American

the_american_poster-535x824.jpgThe closing credits sequence of Michael Clayton sees the camera hold on George Clooney in the back of a taxi. Nothing remarkable happens in this scene. No dialogue, no dramatic gestures, just a pensive Clooney sitting in the back of a cab. Yet there is something completely mesmerising about that scene.

It has a lot to do with the fact the camera loves George Clooney.

Photographer turned director, Anton Corbijn, knows a lot about how to make an image grab the viewers’ attention. It wouldn’t surprise me if he saw the final scene in Michael Clayton and realised the power of Clooney to hold a viewers’ gaze.

The American sees CIA agent Jack go into hiding in the quiet village of Casse del Monte. He’s told not to make any connections, after running into trouble in Sweden for getting too close to female companion.

Despite his best efforts, he still befriends a priest and a prostitute. Two people all too familiar with dealing with those with guilty pasts.

The movie is pensive and patient. A throwback to 1960s films like Antonioni’s The Passenger. Clooney plays a character who says and does very little, yet whom characters in the film are clearly drawn to.

The power of the film comes much more in its quiet than its action-packed ones. Seeing Jack slowly and methodically assemble a rifle for another agent. Watching him always take in his surroundings as he enters and leaves spaces. The camera always seems to cut a lot later than we might expect, as though there’s something else we should be taking in, a detail we have missed.

Allowing myself to be sucked into Clooney and Corbijin’s world for 100+ minutes I found very rewarding. However, those looking for an exciting, original plot should probably look elsewhere. Divided loyalties, rogue agents, etc. are all things we have seen before in the spy genre.

What makes this different is the time devoted to the agent in question. Like Casino Royale it forces us to consider what an agent must lose to follow orders and get his hands bloody. However, unlike Casino Royale, it doesn’t try to distract us away from this with cartoon villains or impressive gadgets.

Instead this a film devoted to a man trying to find an identity he has been asked to forsake. It’s also a film about George Clooney. And how much the camera loves him.

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