Clooney in control

Who is Jack, the painfully distant protagonist at the heart of Anton Corbijn’s new thriller?

We suspect he might have been an assassin, and, indeed, when thrust into harm’s way, he responds with pistols drawn, coldly gunning down friends and foes alike — anyone, it seems, who might compromise his work.

Jack’s a difficult man to engage. Personal disclosures are few, and whatever concessions he offers to inquiring strangers, about his job or his technological acumen, are often misleading.

Yet, he takes no joy in the deception. Jack, whose real name might be Edward, is hungry for human contact, a luxury his lifestyle doesn’t afford.

Who better to play Jack than George Clooney? His strongest work — in 2007’s “Michael Clayton” and last year’s “Up in the Air” — has found him emotionally undernourished, struggling to fill the void with an almost-obsessive dedication to work.

Jack is neither as righteous as Clayton nor as coolly charismatic as Ryan Bingham, his corporate hatchet man in “Air,” but Clooney makes him a force.

Not much happens in “The American,” Corbijn’s loose, leisurely paced adaptation of Martin Booth’s 1991 novel “A Very Private Gentleman.” At the onset, we find Jack in Dalarna, Sweden, where an attempt on his life rapidly unravels, leaving a trail of corpses on a bed of beautifully shot snow.

He escapes to an Italian village, keeping in contact with his handler (Johan Leyson) long enough to secure a new job: building a high-powered rifle for a fellow killer (Thekla Reuten).

Jack approaches the project with an almost-undivided focus, wordlessly toiling into the wee hours, honing his weapon with the love of a craftsman.

Somehow, he finds time for a woman — Clara (Violante Placido), a prostitute with whom he forms a mostly unspoken bond. She senses a basic decency in him, but also a lingering sadness. Jack doesn’t care to argue the point.
How his story unfolds, and where it leads, will frustrate those seeking a typically American thriller.

Corbijn never rushes the action, preferring to take in the scenery (the cinematography is gorgeous) and let the drama breathe. And yet, his narrative rarely wants for momentum. Rowan Joffe’s screenplay, a tribute to understatement, keeps us guessing.

So too does Clooney. Less cocksure here than he is enigmatic, the actor is no less commanding, setting the tone with his eyes more than his voice. It will likely be considered a minor entry in his oeuvre, but in terms of his ability to control the screen, it speaks volumes.

 

MOVIE REVIEW

The American ???

Starring George Clooney, Irina Björklund, Johan Leysen, Paolo Bonacelli, Violante Placido

Written by Rowan Joffe

Directed by Anton Corbijn

Rated R

Running time 1 hour 43 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Muni’s K-Ingleside line will return six months earlier than previously announced. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
K-Ingleside train to return on May 15

Announcement comes on the heels of pressure from Supervisor Myrna Melgar

Former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs spoke to San Francisco’s new Guaranteed Income Advisory Group on April 16. (Courtesy SFGOV)
City launches task force to explore Universal Basic Income programs

San Francisco on Friday launched a guaranteed income task force that could… Continue reading

Demonstrators march from Mission High School towards the San Francisco Police station on Valencia Street. (Jordi Molina/ Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Vigil, march honors those killed by police

Deaths of Daunte Wright, Roger Allen and others prompt renewed calls for defunding

A Recology employee stands at the comapany’s recycling facility on Pier 96 in 2016. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)
Nuru scandal: Feds charge second former Recology executive with bribery

A second former Recology executive is facing charges for allegedly bribing ex-Public… Continue reading

Kiana Williams
Stanford’s Kiana Williams drafted by WNBA champion Seattle Storm

Kiana Williams is going from one championship team to another. A senior… Continue reading

Most Read