Looking at the amount of money it has made in the ten years since release, the chances are reasonably high that you haven’t seen this film. If I were you, I’d look into fixing that.
I’m actually pissed at myself that it took me until now to see this flick. This is the kind of movie everybody should be watching, but so few of us actually do.
What decade are we in?
George Clooney is Michael Clayton, a former ADA* now working for the firm of Something, Something & Ledeen in New York as the in-house fixer. He’s the guy that gets a call in the middle of the night when a favoured client thinks he’s just committed a hit and run, or when a Senior Partner strips naked and professes his love for a plaintiff in the middle of a deposition. Usually working in the background, he suddenly finds himself exposed when a client’s dirty secrets start to come out, and has to use all the tricks he’s learned to get out of trouble with his job – and his life – intact.
This is the kind of film they’re not supposed to be making anymore. I would not have been surprised to discover that this was originally written back in the early seventies or something. Complex, intelligent, morally suspect; it’s an adult drama (not in a porny way) about a man who suddenly finds himself doubting everything and everyone he thought he knew. Written and directed by The Bourne Mastermind, Tony Gilroy, the movie drops us into Clayton’s world with no map other than the brief “Who am I?” speech he gives to the latest over-privileged schmuck requiring his special brand of emergency services. It is up to us to tie all the pieces together as we are drip-fed what we need to know. This is a movie you need to pay attention to but that attention will be rewarded.
Classy. If this site was called 1-Word Movie Reviews, today’s word would be ‘classy’. The film just reeks of class, from the performances to the script, to the camerawork, to the production and costume design, everything has that extra sheen of quality about it. I think by now Clooney has proven himself as one of Hollywood’s smartest operators. Perhaps in twenty years or so, he’ll be thought of the same way as his co-star here Sydney Pollack was in the later years of his career. This is not a flashy role for George – Clayton is a bit of a loser in fact, all things considered – but he still manages to make him just the right level of sympathetic while internalising everything so that you appreciate the shitstorm he gets himself into and want him to find the best way out of a situation that has no easy answers.
There are no bum notes among the cast at all, but the two Brits Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton deserve special mention. Swinton in particular totally earned her Best Supporting Actress Oscar. In fact, if it hadn’t been up against No Country For Old Men for pretty much everything, the film very well could have won a lot more awards.
In this cynical age of sequels and reboots and lowest-common-denominator filmmaking, it is reassuring that anomalies like this exist. Alongside his leading man, and this film’s executive producer Steven Soderbergh, Gilroy is a man to watch if you’re getting tired of giant robot testicles. For a directorial debut, albeit after fifteen years as a screenwriter, this is an absolute barnstormer.
*Seriously? You don’t know what an ADA is? You need to watch more Law & Order.
I’ve been looking forward to watching this film for quite a while now. It’s been worth the wait.
Clooney, guns, and naked ladies.
This movie really does have something for everybody.
George Clooney plays Jack, a man seeking redemption for past misdeeds in a small Italian town. Jack makes guns to order for a shadowy cabal represented by Pavel, his contact. As well as making the weapons, Jack is well-versed in using them too, and when his time in Sweden ends very suddenly and very badly in a shocking prologue scene, Jack has to lie low in Castel del Monte. It is here in this small mountain town where the armour he has put up around himself starts to crack, firstly due to his burgeoning friendship with the town’s priest, and secondly because of the woman he begins to fall for. When he takes on one final job for Pavel, the violence he is trying to escape comes back to haunt him.
The American is only former photographer Anton Corbijn’s second feature as director, after his Ian Curtis biopic Control, but the years spent in his previous career have made him a superb visual storyteller. To say the dialogue in this film is sparse is to redefine the meaning of the word. Entire scenes play out with nary a word spoken. Corbijn’s strength, and that of his actors, is in making you understand the feelings and motivations of these people without having to rely on words. In the hands of another crew, this film would likely be interminably dull.
Jack is Clooney’s most stripped-back performance since the astronaut Chris Kelvin in Solaris. In recent years he has been leaving behind the head-tilts and twinkly eyes that made him a star in the first place, but in this flick, Dr Doug Ross seems like a lifetime away. Violante Placido is heart-stoppingly beautiful as Clara, the local prostitute Jack eventually falls for. She’s worldly when under the red light bulb, but has a sweetness to her in all her other scenes. One in particular stands out; oddly enough, it’s one of the few scenes in which she’s fully clothed throughout. This sequence – in which Clara is asking Jack if she can see him outside their current financial arrangement while out showing her friend around the town – is a beautiful thing. With fairly basic dialogue Clooney and Placido both show all the hope and fear and confusion that happens when you ask someone that you really like out on a date, made even more anxious by the fact that these two already have the relationship that they do, on top of which it seems as if Clara’s friend Anna is in the dark about Clara’s profession and therefore the exact nature of her and Jack’s acquaintance. Jack initially thinks Clara is asking him to come to the brothel as a customer, and the flash of hurt in her eyes is so believable you almost want to reach in the screen and hug her.
Corbijn has admitted that he sees The American as a western. Just in case the audience don’t catch on to this, he places a television in one scene, with Once Upon a Time in the West showing. The film does echo a lot of the spirit of that genre, the Spaghetti variety in particular, but with subtlety. The film never seems like a pastiche or a gimmick. It’s also nice to see Clooney get the chance to show off his Italian on screen, after all that time spent at Lake Como. If you come to this looking for Danny Ocean kicking back in Italy, just keep walking. Your kind aren’t welcome here. On the other hand, if the idea of Shane in the Abbruzo mountains with a suit and a Walther tickles your fancy, then my friend, you can take a seat.
On an unrelated side note, a friend of mine at the office lent me her copy of Miike’s Ichi The Killer today. I think I’ll save that for next Sunday, what do you lot reckon?