Long and Lingering

“We wanted to do a movie in the vein of the ’70s foreign films that influenced so many great filmmakers today,” George Clooney recently told L.A. Times reporter John Horn for a piece that ran yesterday. “We felt if we kept the budget low, that the outside influences (like a studio) would be minimal and we were lucky that Focus was on board with the concept from the beginning.”

“On board”? As in believing in Clooney and director Anton Corbijn‘s vision, embracing it, standing behind it, and giving the marketing effort the old college try? Focus Features marketers have run ads and TV spots and decided to open it in 200 theatres, but they’ve all but abandoned any attempt to sell it with interviews. Clooney has done almost nothing, and Corbijn hasn’t even come to the States for the opening.

The American “is a cinematic anomaly,” Horn writes. “A U.S. production that in look, pacing and casting is more European than Clooney’s own Italian villa.

“‘I’m sure a lot of people will think it’s on the slow side of things,’ says Corbijn, whose previous film, 2007′s Control, was a critically acclaimed (but little seen) fictionalized biography of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of the British post-punk band Joy Division who committed suicide in 1980. ‘But I think there is too much explaining in films sometimes. Yes, there’s not a lot of back story on George’s character. But it’s enough for me to follow the metamorphosis that he is trying to achieve.”

The American is very much a tale of a man alone, and to highlight that vision the filmmakers not only switched its protagonist’s nationality (he’s English in the novel) but also surrounded Clooney with a cast and crew almost exclusively European. At a very late stage, Corbijn even recast the part of Jack’s boss, replacing U.S. actor Bruce Altman with the Belgian performer Johan Leysen.

“Rather than pack pages of expositional dialogue into the script (credited to Rowan Joffe, following drafts by numerous other writers over years of revisions), Corbijn, who is best known as a photographer, relied on long, lingering shots of Jack and the Italian countryside. ‘We were trying to make,’ the director says, ‘a film that had a lot of beauty in it.”

“Corbijn also ‘looked at the film like a western, a morality tale of good versus evil,” he says. ‘Someone has done something bad and wants to escape it, but the past catches up to him.”

“‘Anton is an artist,’ says Clooney producing partner Grant Heslov. ‘And he’s never going to tell a movie in a straightforward way. He’s willing to sit on a shot for a while and not cut away. There are going to be people who are going to be absolutely frustrated by it.’”

34 thoughts on “Long and Lingering

  1. googs on said:

    Maybe I’m the only one but I’ve been impressed with everything I’ve heard and seen so far about this.

  2. Not the only one, googs.

    The movie may or may not work on its own merits, but one *should* applaud the instincts behind it.

    Not every action movie needs to be done like this. But more action movies *should* be done like this.

  3. I wonder how many reviews will include a tired line or two assuming Clooney did this film just for the locales and the ladies.

  4. When everybody’s been talking up Anton Corbijn like he’s the most esteemed super-genius legendary director of all time around here, I’ve been wondering, “Wait, didn’t he just do that CONTROL movie about Billie Joe from Green Day… and that’s about it?”

    But just realized he directed the DM video for THE GREATEST SONG OF ALL TIME, “Enjoy the Silence.”

    YEP YEP.

  5. If it’s a good movie, I don’t care how “slow” it plays. Certainly many people do care, and they may choose not to make a big marketing push for that reason alone.

    And if it’s not a good story … this could die a quick death.

    So wait, “The American” is based on a story about an Englishman? Damn, that’s not quite the same story as what happened to the story about “The Old Mill” (as seen in “State and Main”), but … hmmm

  6. “We wanted to do a movie in the vein of the ’70s foreign films that influenced so many great filmmakers today”

    Not to sound like the resident Clooney-basher here, but aren’t an awful lot of his movies throwbacks to some bygone era? It’s nice to respect tradition and draw inspiration from past masters, but isn’t this also sort of a highbrow version of the magpie approach like you could accuse Rodriguez and the geek crowd of employing? Mining past material for their films instead of truly innovating?

  7. Wrath, you make a good point, but the distinction could be in the material their mining.

    Not many folks criticize actors for doing Shakespeare. Likewise, when looking to 1960s/70s action films and thrillers, there are distinctions to be made from the high-grade stuff and the grindhouse fluff.

    BTW, I came across this precise discussion today, not about film, but about architecture: is it lazy and hackish to use classical motifs in building design? You’re not creating anything “new” by referring back to neo-classical architecture, but does that automatically mean that neo-neo-classical is bad? Perhaps the reason to harken back to it is because it was actually *enduringly good*, just that people swept up in what was later deemed new and trendy purposefully went out of their way to abandon, even denigrate, what went before.

    For all the geek pleasures of nostalgic strip-mining by the likes of QT and Robert Rodriguez– and I will strongly defend those pleasures– there *actually was* quality filmmaking worthy of emulation in the 1970s (and every decade).

  8. Lex, would not have pegged you for a Depeche Mode fan, but you are correct about Enjoy the Silence. Saw them live last year, still great even if Martin Gore has turned into Mugatu.

  9. Violator and (the MASSIVELY UNDERRATED MASTERPIECE) Ultra were pretty much the soundtrack to THE TWO GREATEST YEARS OF ALL TIME, EVER, 1990 and 1997.

  10. “When everybody’s been talking up Anton Corbijn like he’s the most esteemed super-genius legendary director of all time around here, I’ve been wondering, “Wait, didn’t he just do that CONTROL movie about Billie Joe from Green Day… and that’s about it?”"

    See, it’s the obnoxiously purposeful button-pushing that still makes people hate you.

  11. Just saw it. Liked it a whole lot. Plus, I can’t wait for the LexG rant about how great it would be to be Clooney and work with guns for envelopes full of hundreds and having dangerous, sexy women throw themselves at you, instead of being stuck in some fluffy girly rom-com like Justin Long.

  12. “Hugh Grant is THE ENGLISHMAN”

    “I say, what a quaint little village. But who’s this dodgy bugger sneaking up behind me?” BLAM BLAM! “Certainly gave him what for. Now, if one could only find the village’s most ghastly prostitue, one could nip into this quaint little back alley and get one’s willy rubbed.”

    Two words. OPENING. DAY.

  13. “We wanted to do a movie in the vein of the ’70s foreign films that influenced so many great filmmakers today,”

    But what about Golgo?

    “Focus Features marketers have run ads and TV spots and decided to open it in 200 theatres, but they’ve all but abandoned any attempt to sell it with interviews”

    Actually, BOM says The American’s getting 2700 theaters, which is only about 200 less than Machete.

    “‘I’m sure a lot of people will think it’s on the slow side of things,’ says Corbijn,

    Well, they endured TDK and Inception, so maybe not.

    Eloi: “Mining past material for their films instead of truly innovating?”

    He’s innovating by putting it in a modern context modern audiences can “get”. As opposed to QT and RR, who just rely on Family Guy-esque name drops and recreations to seem more relevant.

    Disco: “I’m not queer or nothin’, but I think Depeche Mode is a sweet band!” Had to say it. No opinion on the actual band. Though I just Youtubed the video and remembered and liked the song.

  14. “‘I’m sure a lot of people will think it’s on the slow side of things,’ says Corbijn,

    “Well, they endured TDK and Inception, so maybe not.”

    Say what? “The Dark Knight” and “Inception” on the…slow side of things? Two films whose narrative propelled from one action scene to the next (with “Inception” boasting a nearly 40ish minute action sequence) is…slow? As in cerebral film making type, slow? You lost me on that one. I didn’t love “Inception” and I certainly thought it was 20 minutes too long, but it wasn’t slow.

  15. Barnes: No, as in pacing type slow. There’s a lot of time wasted on both films which could be tightened up better, especially since Inception recycles a lot.

  16. I agree with you that the pacing is slow but all the people that pushed both of those films to box office gold could give a shit about pacing as long as a big ass action sequence shows up every 15-20 minutes.

    Let’s face it, the overall majority of those crowds are more likely to find good pacing in a film to be boring as opposed to thought provoking, let alone entertaining.

  17. “He’s innovating by putting it in a modern context modern audiences can “get”. As opposed to QT and RR, who just rely on Family Guy-esque name drops and recreations to seem more relevant.”

    Shut the fuck up, Kakihara.

    Are we all supposed to be pretending this isn’t D.Z.?

  18. I wish Jeff would just give him his screen name back, since I can’t remember his new handle from day to day. And, yeah, it’s fooling NOBODY.

  19. Especially as his current handle is (predictably) the name of the lead character from Ichi the Killer.

  20. So, Cocky-Doody (thank you, Mel Brooks), how does it feel to come in here with your tail between your legs and post in pseudo-anonymous shame, knowing Our Fearless Administrator clipped your trolling wings and took away your favorite hobby? Or that half the people here screamed for your head when a vote of confidence was being taken on a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT POSTER, who was himself allowed to stick around?

    Personally I’d feel like a real bitch-and-a-half.

    I’ll say this, quoting Orgazmo is the only intentionally amusing thing you’ve said here, ever. I LOLed.

  21. lazarus: Doesn’t really bug me, ‘cus if you have to rely on Mel Brooks to come up with that jab, then you’re the real pathetic one here. Anyway, the majority can be wrong, sometimes, too. Weren’t movies supposed to be better after Avatar?

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