Every now and then an A-list actor plays against type in the kind of film you never expected, delivering the kind of performance you weren’t sure he had in them. George Clooney isn’t necessarily a stranger to this concept. He shocked the world (and himself) when he was cast as Bruce Wayne – and Batman – in the truly horrible 1997 Joel Schumacher film Batman & Robin. More than a dozen years later, Clooney broke from his usual charming, dramatically romantic roles (as well as directing gigs), and starred as a brooding, practically mute assassin in a fairly under-the-radar film called The American (2010). This may as well be an Italian art-house movie based on the pacing, music, and … locale. It’s a 90-minute slow burn that feels like three hours – which isn’t great. But there’s a nice silver lining: It’s packed to the hilt with watch shots, as Clooney wears a well-known, iconic, chronograph that he’s more than a little familiar with.
Why We’re Watching
Last weekend, we debuted a new feature called HODINKEE Weekend Edition. Going forward it’ll be a place to showcase themed, and curated HODINKEE content, neatly packaged for your weekend reading enjoyment. To kick things off, we featured the Omega Speedmaster. After writing that inaugural article, I couldn’t get the Speedy off my mind and was determined to find a film with enough Speedmaster content to flush it out of my system. The American didn’t do that. In fact, I want the watch more than ever.
The movie follows Jack (played by Clooney), an assassin hiding out in a Wes Anderson-esque dreamworld of an Italian city after he’s tracked and made by a sniper at a Swedish winter lodge. His identity and cover blown, he’s forced to kill both the sniper and his girlfriend, resulting in him fleeing to Italy in search of a safe haven. He eventually finds himself in a city called Castel Del Monte where he spends his mornings shirtless in a barren flat with no furniture – but it does have a pull-up bar and you better believe he uses it. If you’ve come to see some fake George Clooney tattoos, this is the film for you. Also, if you came for long-sideburn Clooney, baggy-pants Clooney, backpack-carrying Clooney, or mega-Euro-Persol-sunglasses Clooney, buckle up. Oh yeah, and lest we forget: Speedmaster-wearing Clooney.
He didn’t direct this film, but he basically captures his favorite country and favorite watch in one go. Clooney is famous for loving and living in Lake Como, as well as for being an Omega ambassador. He’s worn Omega watches in films before, but never quite this flagrantly. In fact, the Speedmaster is so heavily featured, I have to think there was either a very specific product placement agreement or the prop stylist was a massive watch lover. Or both.
This movie is straight-up watch porn. There’s also a fair amount of full-frontal nudity, but the watch stuff is next-level. There are very few scenes where Jack isn’t wearing it. The only time we don’t see it on his wrist is during his shirtless workout sessions. A leather strap and exercise are a bad combination so I don’t fault him there.
Brand ambassador or not, product placement or not, it’s really a treat to see a watch given so much attention in a movie – even if it makes the watch feel weirdly sexual. The watch isn’t just party to sexual situations, it is itself filmed sensually, an object of desire beyond the (very) nude extras.
So we know he wears a Speedmaster, but what kind? Well, it’s a Moonwatch. Now, last year, Omega upgraded the Moonwatch line by making tweaks to the dial and bracelet and powering it with a METAS certified movement: the caliber 3861. But that’s not the watch featured in The American (since, um, this is a 12-year-old movie). Jack’s Speedy looks to be the prior generation, the Omega caliber 1861, and he wears it on an Omega black leather strap with a deployant clasp. I know all of this because the watch makes so damn many appearances.
The caliber 1861 Speedmaster is something of a modern relic. Released in 1996, it had an impressive production run of 26 years and is likely the Moonwatch you’ll find on most enthusiasts’ wrists today. The movement isn’t COSC or METAS certified … but the watch is flight certified, as in space certified, as in the Moon. Clooney is a noted Space Race nut and even appeared in a short film with Omega called Starmen, alongside famed astronaut and Moon-venturing Speedy-wearer, Buzz Aldrin.
The American tracks Clooney’s character as he’s tasked with building something of a Franken-gun for another hired killer – a female assassin. He’s being paid to construct, as his character puts it, “A weapon with the capacity of a submachine gun and the range of a rifle.” There are several sequences dedicated to his character building that very weapon, and in each scene the camera hovers over his hands and wrists, giving ample opportunities to view the watch.
There are many reasons I can think of for why a trained contract killer like Jack would choose a Speedmaster. I would like to imagine that his line of work pays pretty well on a contract-to-contract basis (though I have no intimate knowledge of such things, I swear). So it wouldn’t come as a shock to see him spending a piece of a big payday on a new watch. Not just any watch however, but a luxury watch that balances the fancy with utility.
When We’re Watching
Very early in the film, after the incident in Sweden, Jack meets up with his contact in Italy. He’s given an old Fiat and instructed to travel to a town called Castelvecchio and remain there until further instructions (he’ll eventually ignore these orders and head to the Castel Del Monte). When the camera cuts to Jack inside the car [00:13:10], he’s filmed through the driver’s side window. He has his left hand on the steering wheel, and the Speedmaster is framed in the foreground giving a fairly in-focus view of the famous chronograph, its matte black dial, and its legible white markers. It’s an iconic shot for both actor and watch.
At about the midway point in the film, Jack meets his client in a secluded park to showcase his creation and give her a chance to test it out. In what otherwise would look like an opulent picnic, the two are seated on the ground as Jack unrolls gun parts from picnic blankets. As he does so, we can clearly see the Speedmaster on his wrist, but wait – it gets better. In what I consider to be the hero shot in this world-class watch movie [00:44:00], the camera cuts to an extreme close-up of the watch. The shot is so clear, it may as well be an Omega advertisement. And it gets better, still. Jack uses the chronograph! During this extended close-up, he engages the top pusher to time Mathilde’s progress in building this bespoke firearm. I’ll go ahead and say it: This may be the best watch close-up ever put to film.
The American (starring George Clooney) is directed by Anton Corbijn, with props by Paul Gustavsson. It’s available to rent on iTunes or Amazon.
Lead illustration, Andy Gottschalk