George Clooney Doesn't Want to Dine (or Die) Alone

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Giles Keyte/Focus Features
Clooney's aging assassin want to trade his gun for a girl.
The Dinner: pasta salad, Montepulciano, and candy bar at West Edge Market (1301 Post Alley).

The Movie: The American at Pacific Place (600 Pine St.).

The Screenplate: George Clooney famously owns a villa on Lake Como, and there's a certain sense that the star has gone Euro on us. The press and paparazzi aren't so invasive in Italy as in Hollywood; people don't pester him for autographs; the pace of life is more relaxed and the culture more sophisticated. Or, wait, am I confusing all that with The American? Well, no wonder--there's more than a little confusion about the movie. In his review, our critic Mark Olsen described the dilemma perfectly: The American wants to be, or is marketed as being, "Bourne meets Antonioni!" You see the posters and the trailer and think, "Oh, great! George Clooney is going to run around Europe shooting bad guys and bedding fabulous babes." Instead, it's a slow-ish existential head-trip about a meticulous assassin who'd like nothing better than to retire in an Italian hill town, where he'd debate the local priest, drink lots of Montepulciano (the local grape of the Abruzzo region), and find love with an improbably gorgeous prostitute. So there's more languor than glamor, more solitude than action, which also described my dining options after the show...

When we first meet Clooney's character, who goes by the name of Jack (though it's surely not his real name), he's shacked up with a Swedish lovely alongside a frozen winter lake. He's got a beard, and her hot bod, to keep him warm. Of course the idyll can't last. Soon he's crossing Europe, Bourne-like, to find a new refuge. His boss, clearly unreliable, sends him to the Abruzzo, the hilly region east of Rome, high over the Adriatic Sea. The tiny hill town where he rents a room--actually a composite of several such towns--is impossibly scenic: streets barely wide enough for two Vespas to pass; crazy cobblestoned M.C. Escher stairs and ramps that wind in and around one another; alcoves within alleys within courtyards; a place whose ancient geometry, framed overhead by director Anton Corbijn (Control), is both lovely and profoundly disorienting--an analogue of the mental maze inside Jack's head. He isn't at home anywhere. He's always an outsider. He's simply branded "the American" (like the cafe Americanos he drinks) by the suspicious locals.

Though it's based on a 1990 English spy novel A Very Private Gentleman, by Martin Booth, which clearly looks back to the late Cold War, The American also recalls the great 1946 noir The Killers, which largely consists of Burt Lancaster waiting to meet his grim fate. Since Jack has earned his trade by preparing weapons for killers (see also: The Day of the Jackal), and likely done his share of killing himself, he's got that same stoic patience of a guy who expects to die alone. Yet, in his heart, he doesn't want to.

Thus, in his hill town hideout, Jack is soon drinking and dining with the local curate (Paolo Bonacelli), who even cooks for his secretive Yankee visitor. And what starts out as a purely professional relationship with a local sex worker (Violante Placido, the next Monica Bellucci) soon becomes an occasion for picnics and even a date night, when he graciously lets her order their meal. By contrast, Jack seems miserable and alone when grabbing an Americano and quick bite at some late night cafe. He spends his days preparing a rifle for a special, high-paid hit and reading books on butterflies (he's got one tattooed on his back). Even though we know he's actually George Clooney, who owns a villa on Lake Como, he almost seems like one of us late-night office drones who stay at the office because there's no one waiting for us back home.

That's where West Edge Market comes in. Though, as our Mike Seely recently wrote, the place is overpriced in comparison to John's Wok (RIP). This is true. But for the colony of single professionals who reside in the apartments and hotel at Harbor Steps, West Edge Market is a godsend. It's open late (11 p.m. on most days), open seven days a week, and doesn't pass judgment on your nocturnal visits for ice cream, cigarettes, take-out food, and booze.

So when I discovered that several Italian restaurants in Pioneer Square had recently closed, West Edge Market could still provide a Clooney-esque taste of the Abruzzo. A large container of pasta salad ($7.76) also contains chunks of tomato and olive; it isn't too drenched in olive oil; and the tangy flavor argues--even at nine o'clock--that it was made fresh that day. To wash it down, a bottle of 2008 Valle Reale's Vigne Nuove Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ($13.99, marked up way beyond Costco). And, because you can never get the American out of The American, a Butterfinger ($2.00) for dessert.

Jack's tats hint at a background in the U.S. military. But, clearly, he's been away too long. The priest chides him, "You're American--you think you can escape history." And his boss warns, "Don't make any friends." Also, "You've lost your edge." Thanks a lot, pal.

But the film works in large part because Clooney, increasingly gray, seems so willing to slide into middle-aged roles. Jack is past his prime, and he wants comfort in his retirement years, not solitude. Even as Clooney does shirtless push-ups and pull-ups to show how he's lost his Syriana Oscar bloat, we know the clock is ticking. Jack knows. Clooney knows. But there is, yes, one last job to do. All Jack has is his credo: "I do what I'm good at."

If that means eating cold pasta salad at your desk, so be it. There's always more work to do, until there suddenly isn't. "All men are sinners," says Jack. True, but only because our jobs require it.

 
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