Usually when people talk about a movie feeling “European,” it’s not exactly a compliment. It’s shorthand for languid pacing, character-based drama, maybe a few casually naked boobs and a general lack of Hollywood conventionality. The American feels very much like the product of people who want to make a “European”-style movie — except that they forgot to pay attention to the last word in that equation.
George Clooney plays a mysterious fellow — maybe his real name is Jack, maybe it’s Edward, maybe neither — but you get a sense right away for why he’s hard to pin down. Jack/Edward is a shadowy operative who sometimes kills people, and sometimes serves as the machinist creating specialized weaponry for someone else to do the dirty work.
The opening sequence does a remarkably efficient job of setting up Jack/Edward’s ruthlessness, and director Anton Corbijn (Control) builds tension through simple staging and spare use of orchestral score. Clooney’s performance provides a strong foundation for the enigmatic character, whose body language and darting eyes capture a guy who’s clearly expecting trouble around every corner.
But apparently he wasn’t expecting it from the screenplay. Rowan Joffe, adapting Martin Booth’s novel A Very Private Gentleman, eventually wallows in obviousness in his story about a killer searching for his soul. Jack/Edward begins chatting with a kindly priest (Paolo Bonacelli); he falls for a prostitute (Violante Placido). And both the tattoo on his back and later dialogue show us that our dangerous anti-hero is actually sensitive enough to be fascinated with butterflies.
Even all those casually naked boobs and occasional gunshots can’t liven up the general tedium of a movie trying so hard to be oh so European. Grade: C-plus
Opens Sept. 1. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.