***½/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras B-
starring George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli
screenplay by Rowan Joffe, based on the novel A Very Private Gentlman by Martin Booth
directed by Anton Corbijn
by Walter Chaw Though nothing more than a well-made Jean-Pierre Melville shrine at first glance, Anton Corbijn's lovely The American leaves a surprising amount of aftertaste in a year of film that will probably be remembered for the number of "growers" among its roster of resonant pictures. An unusual take on the monotony of any profession (be it prostitution or engineering to-order weapons for assassins), it's more evidence that George Clooney, with this tribute to Melville, his Kaufman-scripted Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and his Tarkovsky redux Solaris, is quietly becoming a visible, above-the-line champion for smart American genre flicks--fomenting his own little underground Nouvelle Vague with movies that audiences, for the most part, are anxious to dismiss. The American is provocatively self-conscious in the way of its best French antecedents; aware of the shoulders upon which it stands (everything from Le Samourai to Breathless to later stuff like the homegrown Eye of the Needle), it also has the gumption to title itself after the original title for Citizen Kane. In so doing, it announces itself as something like a commentary on how the passionate, bloody carnality at the foundation of the United States has aged into an almost bored functionality in the first decade post-9/11.