Sunday, November 14, 2010

Spy Games

Spoiler alert. Do not read this if you dont want know the main plot twist in The American. You have been warned.

When I sit down to write my personal history of spy fiction I shall digress only for a moment to consider where the genre incorporated elements of crime fiction and elements of intellectual authors at play (often under pseudonyms) to hide a paucity of observation. In the Le Carre world, spy fiction has always provided the opportunity to expansively examine other matters in which the author’s real interests are exposed – the futility of cold war politics was superseded in Le Carre’s world by adventures and explorations of colonialism, pharmaceutical conspiracies, American imperialism, Russian adventurism and so on.

But for those seeking only to write something generic the cheapest plot device was always the trope of the lonely agent/hitman whose task, unbeknown to him, is to arrange for and participate in his own assassination. It was a trope of the cheapest order and one which was and is fallen upon with monotonous regularity. At some point the avid spy fiction reader could pick it coming, often far too early.

I don’t think George Clooney is an avid reader of spy fiction. How else to explain his decision to make The American and for this hoary old chestnut of a device to be wheeled out yet again and presented as if it were new. There’s even the same ludicrous ending of many a tatty tale where the would be assassin of the professional assassin is assassinated by another who then tries to kill the professional assassin. Like duh!

From the credits on the movie George didn’t have that far to go from the comforts of his palatial quarters near Lake Como to make the movie. He also didn’t bring any mates to help him do it. But I guess a good time was had by all during the course of production. Aside from George, there’s not a major name anywhere on the acting or technical credits of anybody known beyond Anton Corbijn the tyro director of rock clips and movies about rock stars. Who sold what to whom about the project is mysterious to those of us without access to the great man (still the most handsome leading man since Alain Delon, notwithstanding the pepper and salt beard in the early scenes; still the most charismatic and watchable American star since Clark Gable) but I guess its not important.

The shots of the village, the countryside, the cafes, the meals prepared by the priest (Italian glug) and that swish restaurant with that rather out of character waiter (surely more old-style French than modern Italian) create a deep wistfulness and nostalgia for days and trips gone by.

And it would be nice to think you can now go in to an Italian post office and be served immediately.


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