The American

You’ve got to hand it to George Clooney. He’s cool, devastatingly good-looking and possesses an engaging personality. He could easily play Danny Ocean or roles like that for the rest of his career, make a ton of money (not that he’s doing badly as it is) and be Hollywood royalty of the old school. But he’s always been more ambitious than that. After he became a star on E.R., it was obvious that he wanted to turn his popularity into a movie career. Since then he’s balanced his choices between his patented charming rogue, which he can do in his sleep, and edgier more indie roles that obviously engage his interests more.

Jack, the international assassin in The American is definitely in the latter mode. He is intelligent but somewhat inarticulate. This is mostly because he’s been left in the field too long. When he gets into a jam in Sweden, he shoots his way out, leaving three bodies, including that of his innocent mistress, whom he had to kill to eliminate any witnesses. This he does without blinking.  Jack is without mercy, but unfortunately for him not without a conscience. His handler tells him to lay low in a small Piedmont village. Once there, Jack, ignoring protocol and common sense, becomes friends with the local priest, Father Benedetto, played by Paolo Bonacelli, and dates a prostitute named Clara, played by Violante Placido. Eventually Jack’s handler comes up with a job for him, an easy task making a gun for another assassin. Jack informs his handler that this will be his last job.

The first thing you’ll notice about The American is its stately European pace. This is the kind of film where if you are patient and attentive you will find that director, Anton Corbijn does a pretty good job of slowly tightening the screws and building to the payoff. If, however, you don’t read reviews and are expecting the slam-bang American made action film that the previews promise, you are going to be bored.

There is an interesting effect in this movie. Almost every choice Corbijn makes plays against type. He has George Clooney, an affable guy with an affinity for dialog, playing a closed mouth, stoic killer. There are long stretches with no dialog at all. Jack says he’s not good with machines, but he obviously is. Even the picturesque Italian landscape with rolling hills and quaint country villages is bleached of color by the cinematography.  You almost don’t notice when the scene switches from the snowscapes of Sweden.

But there really isn’t much more to it beyond that. Clooney and the cast of European actors do a fine enough job and as I say it is a competently made film. Just not a very ambitious one. Look at the characters: a burned out hitman on his last mission, a priest who understands sinners because he so intimately understands sin. It even has a hooker with a heart of gold. This is a B movie with indie pretensions. You will also see the twist at the end from miles away.

The American isn’t bad, but I hope the next time George Clooney takes a gamble, he picks a better script.

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