Whenever a big-bucks high-profile photographer moves to the director's chair, I'm game to give him some time. At the very least, the movie is likely to be a treat to look at, if not enter into.
Anton Corbijn's The American is quite the treat, starting with the retro movie poster.
Note the black/orange contrast: Hollywood seems to have set the blue/red scale to 10, for some reason. I suspect Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita set the standard. In any case, Corbijn nudges the blue/red scale to 11. And it actually works. Glamor is the business of articulating the unattainable, and heightening its allure via artfully composed contrasts. Corbijn's palette imbues the (chiefly Roman) locales with heightened cool exoticism. To say nothing of eroticism. Since George Clooney is already on board with Irina Björklund . . .
. . . and Thekia Reuten . . .
. . . and Violante Placido . . .
. . . what more needs to be said?
Oh. Story. Right.
The American is a rehash of the pro-assassin-losing-his-touch motif, and exhausts its capacity for surprise early in the film. Corbijn sets up the trade of assassin/arms dealer as a glamor profession, a premise which, if taken strictly at face value, is laughable (and was played for laughs, brilliantly, in The Matador). However, previous arty films have equated photography with murder, a metaphor well worth stretching in the viewing of this movie.
Glamor photographers and their models engage in a pointedly erotic mutual tease. Yet it is essential they both maintain a cool distance if the glamor is to remain intact. Spoiling any of it with the messy intimacies of, say, a head cold or flatulence or, God forbid, unexpected feelings of compassion for The Other is ruinous for a glamor photographer (well . . . most of 'em, anyway. Not everyone can be Richard Avedon). Can a photographer surrounded by gorgeous women permit himself to be vulnerable and intimate with any of them without throwing his entire game?
That's really as much as needs to be said about this flick, but since I raised the specter of sexual orientation in yesterday's posting, I might as well carry on and declare that, on the Kinsey Scale of Sexuality, The American is lodged resolutely in the Hetero side. Corbijn happily indulges in luscious nude scenes and has a European's lingering appreciation for the rolling enticements of a muscular derrière (which seems to catch the hetero woman's gaze, as well, I'd say).
Years ago, after I'd seen the first Mission: Impossible movie, my wife asked me what I thought. I said, “The movie is a mess that doesn't make a lick of sense. But when it was over, I felt like sprinting down European alleys.” After watching The American, I felt like taking a seat at a European café, ordering a strong Americano, then sitting back and scanning the crowds for the next potential assassin.
Odds are pretty good I'll be watching this more than once.