Fifteen years on from stepping out of ER’s operating theatre and onto big screens, there’s a reason why George Clooney remains in the upper echelon of male leads. Whatever role he’s playing, he’s charismatic. He’s funny. Batman & Robin? Hey, we all have off days. And I’ve been told he’s nice to look at, by people who know about that sort of thing, obviously. People will buy a cinema ticket to see George Clooney be George Clooney.
Asking them to pay money to see him portray a lonely hitman, swathed in fear? Now, that’s a harder ask.
It’s one tackled by Anton Corbijn, the famed rock photographer, and the man behind the camera for the similarly lost and anxious Control, the Ian Curtis biopic which won acclaim for distilling some fragile beauty from outright misery in 2007. This time round the Dutch director adapts the 1991 novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth, switching the protagonist’s nationality from English to American, but losing little else aside.
Does Corbijn pull it off? Well, that all depends on what you go in expecting. Front and end aside, The American isn’t a terribly thrilling movie – much of the film concerns Clooney holed up in Italy drinking cappuccinos, questioning his chosen profession. As you’d expect from a man as visually astute as Corbijn, it’s beautifully shot, with credit due to cinematographer Martin Ruhe. But it’s not a film that ever could be accused of being arresting – if you want to watch a film about hitmen baring their soul, I’d pump for In Bruges everytime.
Yet Clooney’s sheer star quality succeeds in giving some substance to the style. Few can sup a cappuccino as enigmatically as he, and it’s fascinating to see the leading man being given the space and time to flesh out the nuances of his character. The way he folds his paper, the way he checks his watch, the way he looks over his shoulder. As an opportunity to spend some time with a George Clooney you’ve never seen before – well, I think there are many who’ll part with money for that too.