A very European ‘American’

Posted by · 5:15 pm · August 30th, 2010

Amid the growing buzz for the films about to make the festival rounds over the next two weeks, it’s easy to forget that one rather high-end title is hitting theaters as soon as Wednesday.

Anton Corbijn’s hitman drama “The American,” starring George Clooney, was once expected to be in the festival pack — certain rumours had it opening Venice at one point — but Focus Features took us off-guard, settling instead on a release date that pre-empts the festival rush.

Naturally, this change of course prompted chatter that the film wasn’t awards fodder (not something it ever especially appeared to be) and that it was more of a commercial play. That, however, certainly isn’t the impression left by this extensive LA Times piece on the film, which emphasises the “European” nature of the film’s tone and pacing — a gentle way of saying that it lies on the slower, more oblique end of the spectrum.

This should hardly come as a surprise: Corbijn is a doomy Dutch artist, and the film is based on a literate British novel boasting, as the article states, no “discernible moral compass,”, so a pulpy Hollywood thriller was never on the cards here. Producer Grant Heslov, it would appear, is already bracing himself for a troublesome audience response:

“This wasn’t one where we said, ‘We’re doing an “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise,'” Heslov says of the film’s overall European tone and structure. “On a $70-million film, it’s less of an art form. That’s just a fact. Anton is an artist. And he’s never going to tell a movie in a straightforward way. He’s willing to sit on a shot for a while and not cut away. There are going to be people who are going to be absolutely frustrated by it.

What’s most intriguing, moreover, is Clooney’s assertion that the film is a homage of sorts to the “’70s foreign films that influenced so many great filmmakers today”; he doesn’t specify which vein of foreign cinema, but I’m optimistically wondering if, say, Antonioni’s “The Passenger” is on the mood board. What it doesn’t explain, though, is why a film aiming so high would just barely duck out of the festival parade.

The film also gets rather loftily written up (Clooney’s character is described as “a solitary figure who wants to find romance and redemption, despite his escalating inner turmoil”) in this article posted on the Focus site, in which Scott Macaulay describes its place in the broader history of hitman movies. (Of course, that’s a pretty stock line: wasn’t “Up in the Air” about the same thing?)

[Photo: Focus Features]

→ 12 Comments Tags: , , | Filed in: Daily

12 responses so far

  • 1 8-30-2010 at 5:46 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Maybe Bertolucci’s “The Conformist?”

  • 2 8-30-2010 at 5:50 pm

    aspect ratio said...

    I’m dying to see this, but it’s worrisome that less than two days before it opens there’s not a single review of it out there. The lack of early reviews doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence, but I sure hope I’m wrong about why that is.

  • 3 8-30-2010 at 6:03 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Seeing it tonight.

  • 4 8-30-2010 at 6:22 pm

    Danny King said...

    Kris – Can we expect a tweet or a brief post about your initial reaction to the film? I’m dying to hear something about it. I’m even thinking of catching a midnight show tomorrow.

  • 5 8-30-2010 at 6:37 pm

    Carlo said...

    Can’t wait for this:)

  • 6 8-30-2010 at 6:50 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    If there’s one thing moviegoers around the globe–in Asia, South American, North America, and Europe–can all agree on, it’s that we love those slow European films. That’s why they are as popular in Taipei and Bogata as they are in Kansas City.

  • 7 8-30-2010 at 8:27 pm

    Rob said...

    The movie’s good. The “European” superlatives are merited — audiences are going to hate this; I don’t know if I’ve ever heard so many audible sighs and exhalations in a screenings. The pacing’s going to be deadly for some (and doesn’t really pick up until the last 10 minutes), but I’m surprised this wasn’t shown to press over the last few weeks. Surely, SOMEONE would have championed this, and I have no doubt it’ll get more than a few positive reviews.

    I totally dug it — it was always lovely to look at, Clooney’s solid, and I found its prevailing moodiness (as opposed to a solid narrative) to be an asset. But the lack of a real plot, much in the way of character definition (or even dialogue) is going to doom it with the crowd being sold a fast-paced action thriller in the TV spots.

  • 8 8-30-2010 at 10:12 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Danny: Unfortunately my thoughts are embargoed until tomorrow so I’ll be respecting that for now.

  • 9 8-31-2010 at 5:48 am

    Danny King said...

    Got it.

  • 10 8-31-2010 at 7:19 am

    Ugarte said...

    I am so sick of the hitman genre. They are to film what lawyer shows are to TV: played out!

  • 11 8-31-2010 at 7:47 am

    Ben M. said...

    I dunno, this sounds to me like damage control for a film that will flop. The article in and of itself isn’t a bad sign for the movie, but the fact that there are hardly any reviews for the film right before release when critics may be more willing to follow a slower, more European film than American audiences, suggests to me that Focus knows they have a turkey on their hands.

  • 12 8-31-2010 at 8:52 am

    Joseph said...

    Interested now.