Thursday, September 9, 2010


I love George Clooney. Love watching him on screen, or the one time I encountered him in person. He reminds me of an old style movie star, like Cary Grant or Paul Newman, whose good looks and charm coupled with the ease and comfort with which they carry those attractions, just sets me up to be in favor of watching them act out the leading role in a flick.

Not everything Clooney does has been as great as say his roles in MICHAEL CLAYTON or SYRIANA, or as fun as the OCEAN'S ELEVEN franchise, but I have never seen a movie he was in that disappointed me. Though some weren't as compelling as others, I've always come away glad I went, because he's also pretty smart about what he chooses to be in.

THE AMERICAN is more or less a departure. It has elements of his character's darkness in SYRIANA and technical competence in his Danny Ocean roles, and even a flash of charm for a few seconds here and there, but over all it's the kind of character a movie star with his screen charisma would usually turn down.

But he obviously likes the challenge. The story itself has one of those completely improbable movie plots where things happen that work for moving the character to the end of the story but don't necessarily make sense in any world any of us live in. But if you accept that it's a more or less action/suspense movie, a kind of thriller, and therefore you're along for the ride not the veracity—and if you can also accept that this is basically a European film with all that implies, slow-moving and deep meaning implied in camera angles (the many close shots from behind on the back of his vulnerable head raises the tension exponentially as the camera changes the distance from which it is following him) and glances exchanged with little or no dialogue, etc.—as I did (and also aren't afraid of a movie that doesn't have the old style Hollywood ending), well then, for my taste it's well worth catching.

Clooney does a great job with his character, giving him the most subtle and sparse physical traits to make him seem both familiar and unknown, a trick rare among contemporary male movie stars but common in the heyday of classic Hollywood. Like his character's not too obvious but almost constant gum chewing, or the dread and disappointment in his eyes and the mostly lack of any facial expression that becomes effectively expressive.

Like I said, I love watching him work on screen. Having acted in a lot of films and even as the lead in several—almost all of which were not well made or that well written and most of which weren't ever even released on DVD—I know how hard it can be, the challenge of carrying that weight and making it seem effortless while still accomplishing everything you mean to in order to make the entire story work. Clooney is a master at it, maybe the best we have and have had for a while now.

But even if you aren't crazy about Clooney and don't like intense but slow-moving little European movies like this, it's still worth watching for his co-stars, all of them Europeans, especially the incredible Violante Placido (that's her with Clooney above). I haven't been this smitten by a European actress since Dominique Sanda in Bertalluci's THE CONFORMIST.

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