7 Reasons You Shouldn’t Watch The American
The new Anton Corbijn film – The American – starring George Clooney is out in the UK right now. I saw it on Saturday, here are seven reasons that you shouldn’t. (and don’t worry, there are no spoilers)
1. The Unconcious. The pace of the first half of The American is slow. It’s so slow, in fact, that if anyone had said “so slow”, it would have come out as, “sssssssssssssssssssssssssssooooooooooooooooooooooooo sssssssssssssssssssssssllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllooooooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww”. Someone may even have said it, but I’m not sure, as I was dozing. Not a deep and satisfying slumber, but the fitful sort where you find yourself alternating between brief bouts of consciousness and unconsciousness, with occasional forays into semi-consciousness and thoughts of what the hell is happening to me, is this what old age is like (ness). So, I’ll sum up what I saw in the first half of the film (without spoilers). I saw George Clooney living the soporifically mundane daily life of a hit-man. In a series of slowly cut shots with no dialogue I watched him: Counting his bullets, drilling a series of small holes in some tips, oiling his mechanism (not a euphemism), polishing his barrel (nope, nor this), adjusting his sights, rearranging his small change on a table, lining up his fish fingers in size order, adding up all of the telephone numbers on his mobile and dividing them by four, testing the accuracy of his oven timer against his wristwatch (an Omega Speedmaster Professional with a black dial and black leather strap: model number 3870.50.31, I had time to note), comparing the shapes of his fingernails with his toenails, dusting his light bulbs, and staring into an empty fridge while over his head a strip-light buzzed (I may be wrong on some of these, but if they weren’t there, it felt like they were).
2. The Conscious. That’s not fair, you’re probably thinking, if you’d been awake, it probably wouldn’t have seemed that dull. But I wasn’t the only person that was sleeping during the first half. Because when I was in the toilet after the film, a man standing behind me said, “You were asleep during the first half” and, as I prepared to answer him, the man at the urinal next to me replied, “I know, it was really slow”. It turned out that they were friends and that I wasn’t being addressed at all. So there you have it. Based on the available evidence, there are two distinct types of human-behaviour that occur during the first half of The American. There are the Sleepers, who sleep, and then there are the Sleeper-Watchers who, while they have remained conscious, aren’t watching the film either; they’re watching people sleep so they can tell them about how they slept later, in great detail; “You kept leaning forward, and then you fell back, and then you leant forward, and then you fell back, and then you leant forward, and then you fell back, and then you said “chopsticks”, and then you fell back…” was my personal Sleeper-Watcher’s epic account of my movements. So, during the first half of the film, 50% of the audience are sleeping and the other 50% are watching them sleep and compiling a dossier on their movements, their utterances and their dribbling. Which means that 100% of the audience are not watching the first part of the film. That’s how dull it is.
3. Lust. And then the second half of the film begins. It begins with Violante Placido in bed with no clothes on and, in the words of my personal Sleeper-Watcher, “…you sat bolt upright and stared at the screen while breathing rapidly, remaining in that position for the rest of the scene, before you settled back in your seat and stayed awake for the rest of the film”. So not only do you get a full report on how weird you are in your sleep, you get a full report on how lecherous you are when you’re wide-awake too.
4. Clooney. And then there’s Clooney. Now I understand that George Clooney’s playing an emotionless, calculating and reserved man. But we see his bottom in The American, and I can state categorically, that his arse has a greater number of expressions than his face in this film. Here is his full range of facial expressions in The American (sorry if you were hoping for an arse montage, though we do have one of those on the About Us page):
5. References. During the film, in a scene where Clooney is counting the grains of salt contained in a salt cellar before he thinks about Switzerland for five minutes in a bar with formica tables, something distracting happens in the background. There’s a film on the television. It’s Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. God, I love that film, I thought. It’s in my top ten films of all time. Why aren’t I watching that? Why in God’s name would you taunt the viewer by placing an iconic piece of cinematic brilliance within your own, not brilliant, movie. So, he’s made me fall asleep, he’s made me appear lecherous, he’s made me watch a man iron his vast collection of handkerchiefs with a lukewarm spoon, and now Anton Corbijn is actually taunting me. He’s showing me a bit of a film that I love that’s better than the one he’s made and that I’m watching, I thought. While screaming inwardly.
6. The Pants. And then there are the pants. Violante Placido, for reasons I won’t bore you with, decides to disrobe (except for her pants) and go swimming in a river. But why would anyone take all of their clothes off except for their pants? Then they’d be wet once they got out of the water. And they’d have to go home wearing wet pants. And who wants to wear wet pants for an afternoon? And I know that you’re thinking that it was for the sake of modesty, but it wasn’t. Because they became completely transparent the moment they got wet, a fact that my Sleeper-Watcher noted later, before he informed me that I, “…sat bolt-upright and made some sort of involuntary tongue noise. And didn’t blink for eight whole minutes” in reaction to this scene. Three days later, after a great deal of thought, I still can’t fathom the pants.
7. The Ending. Again, I won’t tell you what happens, but there’s a moment of awareness when someone alters the thing. And when that person – whose gender I won’t digress – alters the thing that I won’t name, I had a moment of clarity. I knew, in that instant, that the character that was going to do the deed would be thwarted by the one that altered the thing and that the other character that I also won’t name would eventually have to do the deed – not with the broken thing that had been altered, but – with another thing but that we hadn’t been introduced to, and that the deed would end badly. Not only for the character who had been forced to do the deed with the new thing, but also for the character to whom the deed was being done, that countered the deed with his own thing, having previously sparking this chain of events by altering the initial thing in the first place. And it was just bloody obvious that was going to happen a long time before the end.
So, to summarise: During the first half of the film you will fall asleep or resort to watching someone else sleep to keep you entertained; you will then be branded a pervert, be partially baffled by facial expressions, taunted by the director, and then wholly baffled by pants before eventually spotting the blatantly obvious ending many minutes before the film ends. I don’t think ungoing is an actual thing, but I want to do it. Right now.