The customer reviews on Amazon for The American (Corbijn, 2010) are wildly polarized. Half of its viewers give it one star and call it “slow” and “booooring!” The other half love it and compare it to classic French film. Roger Ebert put it on his best of 2010 list, though critics mostly overlooked it. Intrigued?
The movie is indeed slow. Although it has a thriller plot (assassin is forced to lie low in a picturesque spot while his enemies hunt him down) and a few action sequences, the film moves at a deliberate, cautious pace that matches the extreme self-control of its hero, played by George Clooney. This clip captures some of the pacing and tight focus that the director Anton Corbijn uses to turn what could have been standard Hollywood fare into something visually and structurally interesting. It’s a small scene, but it carries weight, as the ending will reveal. “Jack,” played with admirable understatement by Clooney, is so tightly wound, so unrelentingly professional that his smallest human gesture seems momentous. The screenplay by Rowan Joffe shows this off nicely, with the barest minimum of dialogue.
The shots are just as carefully composed as the story and performances. The film begins with a broad panorama of a snowy Swedish landscape. The camera moves gradually toward a house under the trees and establishes its ground rules: no fast cutting, no hand held cameras, long takes. There are some wonderful moments of editing too — like one where a killing takes place during a cut, in the gap between shots. This is visual storytelling at its best: elegant, spare, and surprising. The American will find its audience slowly but surely.