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George Clooney and THE AMERICAN

What’s immediately striking about the George Clooney vehicle, THE AMERICAN, is not, in fact, George Clooney but the bleak, frigid, snow-covered Swedish landscape, followed soon after by the also bleak, washed-out landscape of small town Italy. Clooney, who produced and stars, is as cute and scruffy as ever, even in the drabbest of wardrobes, but with little dialogue and even less character development the setting becomes the film’s major player.

Though Clooney is in every scene, if not every shot, by the film’s end you hardly know him. You get the basics (don’t worry, no spoilers): he’s an aging assassin who’s losing his touch, and after a life lived in anonymity he’s craving intimacy. And since he’s George Clooney he finds it easily, this time with a local prostitute (cue the eye-rolling). But contact with strangers breaks every rule of Spy 101, and it’s not long before he’s given his final assignment.

Of course, with barely enough dialogue to fill one side of a 4×6 notecard, the fact that this is his final assignment isn’t clear, even at the end. Director Anton Corbijn and screenwriter Rowan Joffe’s pared down adaptation of Martin Booth’s novel leaves the audience with their fare share of guesswork. On the one hand the storytelling, or the lack thereof, is refreshing. There are enough overblown, overproduced spy thrillers to close the lid on the genre for good, and with its slow-pace and tonal focus, you’d be hard-pressed to find evidence of a thriller anywhere in THE AMERICAN. It’s a quiet piece about a private man on a lonely journey, and should therefor be a character-driven film. I’m willing to come along for awhile because, like I said, the scenery is beautiful, but there comes a point when not knowing anything about the main character becomes frustrating. If he reveals nothing about himself in 2 and half hours – and don’t tell me the original notion of falling for a prostitute is supposed to rouse my sympathy – why should I care? He’s likable enough, but so what? What has he given me to care about? After a final, fast-paced scene that breaks a monotonous streak of ponderous shots of Clooney, the answer, sadly, is: nothing.