"'Bourne meets Antonioni!' is not a marketer's dream tagline," notes Mark Olsen in the Voice, and not without some degree of sympathy for the team trying to pass off Anton Corbijn's The American as "a fast-paced Euro-stylish thriller starring George Clooney as a dashing, conflicted hero."
"On a substantive level it's ludicrous," finds New York's David Edelstein, "but in its spareness and uninflected pacing and use of space, it takes you back to an era of arty, angst-ridden European existential pulp movies that were like abstract essays on the genre. The American is the least American thriller in years."
The Oregonian's Shawn Levy finds that "it aspires to the languid tension of, say, Jean-Pierre Melville's Le samouraï, but it's not quite up to that caliber or resonance. Clooney plays a cipher who goes by various names, including, rather heavy-handedly, Mr Butterfly. By trade he crafts rifles for assassins, and he answers to a mysterious and cruel boss in Rome, who may have set him up for execution in Sweden and may be doing so again."
"This kind of character tends to be a man of few words: Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford in the 1970s, Alan Ladd in Shane." AO Scott in the New York Times: "Mr Clooney's gravelly whisper and diffident, ironical air make him a natural heir to the tradition, and many of his roles — in Syriana, in Michael Clayton and even last year in Up in the Air — are variations on the strong, silent archetype. The American, filtering out any mention of the character's history and suppressing all but the tiniest indications of emotion, tries to strip the man to his essence. But there is not quite enough there: the still waters run very cool but not terribly deep, and The American falls back into a view of its protagonist that is ultimately more sentimental than unsettling or intriguing."
Bill Weber in Slant: "Adapted from a novel by Martin Booth, Rowan Joffe's script provides a friendly, brandy-quaffing local priest (Paolo Bonacelli) to dispense some second-rate Graham Greene psychology to the American visitor: 'You cannot deny the existence of hell; you live in it.' But ponderousness isn't The American's biggest sin; it betrays its potential with utterly expected ironies (who will be found in the sights of that custom-made rifle? You'll guess), an egregious final shot derived from Jack's otherwise underdeveloped identification with butterflies, and confirmation that its initial, grim flintiness was just the misdirection of a hollow good-badman tale."
But Glenn Kenny, writing for MSN Movies, finds that "eventually The American does get to where it wants to be, and becomes a rather improbably but genuinely moving story. Clooney's decision to turn off his natural charm for this role actually pays big dividends by the story's end, and his acting in the film's final quarter is not just some of the best he's ever done, but also some of the best you'll see in any movie this year."
More from Sam Adams (Salon), Marjorie Baumgarten (Austin Chronicle), Josef Braun, Adam Cook, Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Todd Gilchrist (Cinematical), Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out Chicago), Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix), Paul Matwychuk, Todd McCarthy, Patrick Z McGavin, Neil Morris (Independent Weekly), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), David Poland (the newly redesigned Movie City News), Mary Pols (Time), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), Elias Savada (Film Threat), Roman Scheiber (Ray, in German), Dana Stevens (Slate), Scott Tobias (AV Club), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Armond White (New York Press), Alison Willmore (IFC) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). John Horn talks with the film's makers for the LAT.
Corbijn's been keeping quite the blog for Focus Features, posting not only the diary-like entries you'd expect but also photos, many of which have likely wound up in his new book, out today, Inside The American, boasting "more than 100 photographs plus my handwritten notes and some drawings indicating camera positions at certain scenes.... Making a film is so incredibly time and emotion consuming that I find it very therapeutic to catalogue this period in my life. And that is why I made this book, for myself. As a visual memory to a deep and new experience."
Also at Focus's site: Scott Macaulay runs through the history of hit men in the movies.
Update, 9/3: For IFC, Michael Atkinson ponders "The Secret of George Clooney's Success" and finds his first clue in the poster for The American: "But it's not a marketing designer's inspired fluke — it fits Clooney's entire persona like a silk suit, because Clooney is not Of the Present but a deft, carefully engineered manifestation of the ultracool past. There's nobody else that does this; he is our only retro-icon movie star, a vital cultural presence strangely and exhilaratingly connected to yesteryear."
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