George Clooney’s latest is an intensely clever film which forgets it needs to be entertaining. I mean a film which calls itself a thriller about a hitman hiding out in Italy surely needs some actual thrills, no? Instead we have a character study with a surfeit of existential angst, and while it’s shot extraordinarily well by director Anton Corbijn, and Clooney’s performance as a man doing everything in his power to avoid human emotions is highly impressive, the film is dull, lifeless and very rarely interesting.
Clooney plays hitman/armourer Jack/Edward, who is tucked away in the Italian mountains after a failed assassination attempt in Sweden. In the tranquil countryside he is befriended by local priest Paolo Bonacelli (who nearly steals the film from him), whilst working on a weapon for his boss Johan Leysen and his client Thekla Reuten. Alone and forsaking his emotions, he avoids contact with others, yet frequents hooker Violante Placido, who unexpectedly falls for him. Isolated by choice, but affected by the world nonetheless, his well ordered world refuses to stay ordered, under constant threat from unknown assassins, as well as his growing feelings for Placido. When the weapon is completed everything falls apart completely as his last job really does start looking like his last.
People are starting to get fed up of Clooney’s mid-life crisis repertoire now, adept though he may be at portraying them. His Jack/Edward may be charismatic but has very little likeable about him, indeed because of screenwriter Rowan Joffe’s sparse script we barely even get to know him. And Clooney may be mesmerising, but there’s little point to this film – the weapon he works for is ultimately used against him, his love for Placido is ultimately doomed and his friendship with Bonacelli may be peppered with amusing one-liners, but it ends up leading nowhere.
Corbijn gives his film wonderful detail and context – Jack/Edward has a totally fleshed out world in which to reside, but it has no warmth to it whatsoever. That may have been part of the point – a man who eschews emotions to keep himself safe is hardly likely to engage the world emotionally through choice, but it robs the film of entertainment value; there’s only so long you can tolerate him sitting in his room, either meditating or working (and without dialogue) without getting bored quite frankly. Joffe’s script too is painfully obvious – it’s pretty clear from early on that the film is going to be a tragedy (making its thriller moniker quite baffling), but there is almost no character conflict in getting there. The car park face off with Reuten could easily have had more made of it, but even in the final act Corbijn opts for angst instead of dramatic engagement. There are also moments which don’t make sense – Clooney’s behaviour in the film’s finale in particular. There may be high drama (almost the only instance of it) in the lead character knowing he’s about to die, but it’s preposterous to suggest it couldn’t have been avoided.
It has its moments – the burgeoning friendship between Clooney and the priest has some cute moments, and the is-it-a-face-off-with-Placido-or-isn’t-it is gently amusing, but they’re pretty shallow. You never get the feeling that Jack/Edward questions his life or chooses to engage in life until it’s too late, and as a viewer you never see any action until the final act. I admired the sparse script – there was next to no exposition in telling the story, and that’s rare in this day and age, but the absence of warmth, humour or conflict made this a largely (but not entirely) futile experience – I’d have preferred it to have been more than just clever. I’d also like Clooney’s next outing to have some fun again, thanks.