If you’re of that demographic that will attend any movie starring George Clooney just so you can see him in close-up, you might want to check out this exercise in espionage. Be forewarned the looks on his face don’t vary much between a frown and a scowl. And he seems to be very tired. And you don’t get to see much of his expressive eyes because they’re almost always hidden behind dark sunglasses.
If you’re the type of moviegoer who enjoys a plot — or at least a trace of a storyline — and characters you get to know and maybe begin to understand, even the presence of Clooney won’t be enough to keep you interested in this flat piece of filmmaking.
Too bad, because it starts off pretty well.
Some restful time drinking and lovemaking in a cottage by a frozen lake in Sweden quickly leads to a sniper, various guns, and displays of mistrust and betrayal.
“Who are the Swedes, and why are they trying to kill me?” Those are the answers demanded by Jack (Clooney) over the phone to his Italian contact Pavel (Johan Leysen). He doesn’t get his answers, but is told to hightail it to a little Italian village, lay low, and “don’t make any friends.” Pavel also might have a job for him, to which Jack responds that he might be interested.
Yeah, there’s a job, and he takes it, and it gives us an inkling of what Jack is capable of doing. Hint: Not only is he a superb marksman, he also knows everything there is to know about the inner and outer workings of guns. Good thing, too, because he must design a special weapon for a mysterious British woman (Irina Bjorkland), who is obviously an assassin, and just as obviously a demanding customer.
Interest starts to build as Jack comes in contact with different people, including the beautiful prostitute Clara (Violante Placido) and the brandy-loving Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), with whom he shares some cryptic metaphorical philosophical chatter.
But that interest begins to wane when the film devolves into a series of scenes showing Jack, alone, either sitting in a room, waiting for something to happen, or walking around the village, with the camera usually following close behind him, he rarely speaks to anyone, but he’s careful to look around every corner because, hey, there could be a Swede in the shadows.
In fact, even when he’s sharing the screen with others, there’s very little dialogue. And even though there are guns aplenty, in the hands and pockets and purses of all kinds of people, they’re like the collected works of Shakespeare — oft seen, rarely used.
There’s certainly a case for making a character in a story enigmatic, but there has to be a purpose behind it. We learn nothing about Jack here — except that he sometimes calls himself Edward — and there’s no payoff to it.
We do get a side story about local prostitutes being murdered, but that doesn’t go much beyond a headline in a newspaper and is eventually frittered away in one line of dialogue.
The film works pretty well as a good-looking travelogue through some picturesque areas of rural Italy, and it manages to capture a mood both meditative and unsettling. But that soon turns to boredom while we – like Clooney’s character – wait for something, anything, to happen.
But not much does. When there’s a sudden burst of action involving a car and motor scooter chase through the back alleys of a small village, it simply feels out of place.
It’s a case of something finally happening, but since all it does is break the mood, you kind of wish it didn’t. It’s likely that anyone who goes to see this film, similarly, will wish they hadn’t.