Some uncanny similarities connect the late summer multiplexing vehicle The American and Jim Jarmusch’s latest, dreamy art-house drifter, Limits of Control. Both are deliberately slow, or slowish, studies of lone assassins in prep mode for a kill, facing the usual angst about their gig and engaged in ambiguity about the underlying scenario of the kill in question. But whereas Jarmusch takes Antonioni as a stylistic cue, The American is more about Armani. In audience and box-office terms, of course, results differ widely: Limits of Control ran for only one week at our arthouse-y Plaza de Oro, whereas Clooney’s mug is helping to ensure a longer haul in mainstream theaters downtown.
But while Jarmusch fans (present company included) might rue the unfair dismissal of the director’s latest, it is also true that The American has a lot going for it. For one, Dutch director (and music video maker) Anton Corbijn brings to the work a refreshingly meditative sense of pacing and sensory appreciation along its path of sex and implied violence, which makes it seem more European than American in nature and tone.
In The American, Clooney plays a familiar lone-gunman-of-few-words type. His story is told—as much as it’s told, rather than enigmatically alluded to—and he dispatches his work with cool professional aplomb, but secretly yearns to get out of the industry. And if he can find a beautiful Italian prostitute with a heart of gold (Violante Placido) to rescue and escape with to a simpler life, all the better.
Between two bursts of violence that bookended the film, this is actually a fairly peaceable and tranquil piece of work. Led to a small, rustic Italian town by his mysterious “agent,” our protagonist takes on the job of building a custom weapon for another assassin (Thekla Reuten). We are led into scenes of the minutiae of his mechanical handiwork, akin to the way the details of whaling are doted on in Moby Dick. (Interestingly, an unusual sex scene also dwells on the mechanics of operations.)
Part of us yearns for a tidy resolution to all these carefully laid loose ends, but questions remain about who’s killing whom, and why. Hmm, reminds me of a Jarmusch film …