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The American
Genre Mystery
Year: 2010
 
Review:

Bill Murray played the 'American' in Jim Jarmusch's pretentious art house "thriller", The Limits of Control, the story of a mysterious stranger in the process of completing a job. What has this got to do with The American? Well, firstly the title shares a connection with Bill Murray's character in The Limits of Control. Secondly, renowned music video director, Anton Corbijn is probably most famous for his film about Joy Division's Ian Curtis called Control.

So there are two contact points of interest... but it doesn't stop there. The plot is almost a direct parallel with The Limits of Control with a suspicious stranger involved in an impending crime, who wanders a small town with brief encounters with women and confidantes. The execution of both films is masterful, beautiful and done in a highly stylised manner. Jarmusch goes way over the top, sacrificing meaning for style... as demonstrated by his casting of Isaach De Bankole, who hardly even says a word. Corbijn has George Clooney, who basically carries the film in the anticipation of some greatness. Unfortunately, it's a waiting game for The American and The Audience.

We're intrigued by the mystery of our professional killer. What makes him tick? Why is he in hiding? However, the mystery does not substitute for entertainment value and while watching beautifully shot images of a small Italian village is aesthetically pleasing... it's as satisfying as paging through someone's best holiday photos. Corbijn's career has been all about creating great beauty and he managed to carry this into his first feature film, Control. The American is picture perfect, but it lacks drive and substance, which makes it lush, gorgeous yet dull.

Jarmusch's The Limits of Control was overambitious, but at least it knew what it wanted. Pretentious, alienating and like something straight from a high-end fashion magazine shoot... the director tried to push the limits of control to breaking point. It was so manipulated that it became a painful, dull and almost excruciating experience in patience. Even strict art house audiences would struggle to find some identification points to bring the story home. The American aims for a strong visual style... blending themes and scenarios from thrillers like The Professional and In Bruges, however it pales in comparison with these engrossing films.

This is an art house thriller with George Clooney, who is supported by the delicate beauty of Violante Placide and Thekla Reuten. The cast deliver fine performances, but it's all done within a vacuum. Clooney holds the film together as a kingpin and continuity device, oscillating between the shots of the small Italian town and the thinning plot line. The American has been executed in high style, but unfortunately the overarching story just doesn't really matter. We're kept at an arm's length from the characters to the point that we're quite apathetic to late plot developments.

Anton Corbijn's film feels like a scene from a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western has been stretched to breaking point at 105 minutes. There will be a handful of viewers that magically connect with The American, but for the rest of us... the film is dull, uneventful and disappointing considering the immense talent involved. The American is the sort of film you'll admire from afar... technically sound, beautifully executed, yet as thrilling and entertaining as watching biscotti dry.

The bottom line: Dull.

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