Film Review – The American
Jack, played by George Clooney in director Anton Corbijn’s The American, is a troubled man with a past. We know this instantly, because he has mysterious tattoos, and also he ignores the beautiful naked woman he’s with to stare pensively into the fireplace. When the two go for a walk around their snowy cabin and are shot at from the trees, the ensuing gun battle clues us in a little more: he’s an assassin, or similar, and someone’s trying to kill him. He would rather not be killed, but can deal with a little unfortunate collateral damage to accomplish that.
Jack heads to Rome and calls a business associate, Pavel. The Swedes have found him, Jack explains. Pavel, with the controlled exasperation of a veteran no-good-doer, orders Jack to go wait in a nearby small town for instructions. Jack agrees, but then changes his mind, chucks the cell phone he’s been given into a river, and goes to a different small town. I assume this is because he doesn’t trust Pavel, though why he called him at all in that case is anyone’s guess. Other than the general “don’t get killed,” we never get much in the way of Jack’s motivations from moment to moment.
Biding his time in the quiet village, Jack does a lot of push-ups, drinks some espresso, and stares blankly out at the impressively lovely landscape. A nosy priest takes notice. Jack becomes his reluctant friend, listening to him drone on about men and their sins, as priests do. Evenings not spent dining or wandering the cemetery with the priest are spent visiting the local brothel, where Jack takes a shine to a particular prostitute called Clara (Violante Placido). At least, he returns to see her again; he still doesn’t show any particular emotion. She develops feelings for him, though, what with him being Clooney and all.
Eventually, Jack gets either bored enough or satisfied enough (the expressions would seem to be the same) to call Pavel, who gives an assignment that Jack hopes will be his last: make a custom gun for another mysterious assassin, Mathilde. The meet-in-a-public-place spy dance and sober gun testing Jack and Mathilde engage in are easily the most entertaining part of the film. I wished we were watching her movie instead of his, as she seemed to have something interesting to do. Instead, we get many long scenes of Jack methodically working on the gun. All hopes that this might somehow lead to a little backstory about how he gained these skills or came to be in this situation will remain unrealized. No number of close-ups of Clooney’s still wondrously attractive face could magically provide the character development I so desperately longed for.
We return periodically to Clara, the hooker with a heart of sugarplums and fairies. While I quite liked Placido herself (and, for those who are interested, her breasts give a valiant supporting performance), the character is exasperating. An Italian countryside prostitute who sincerely believes a mysterious American who has never so much as smiled is going to whisk her away to a life of love and eternal picnics? Well, I’ll not say whether this turns out to be a reasonable or an unfounded hope on Clara’s part, though I will say that when this storyline inevitably intersects with the assassination plot, it propels us to a final scene that is eye-rolling at best.
The American exhibits that rare but unforgivable combination of being both boring and ridiculous. Some viewers may find more to like than I did, especially if they are less bothered by an impenetrable main character (or can feel a sympathy for him that I could not). I’m usually tolerant of a slow pace, but the number of lengthy shots of nothing of importance made me antsy, and not in a high tension sort of way. Each conversation with the priest about right and wrong was something we’ve heard before, and in more interesting ways. The early sequence in the snow and one later chase scene (with requisite moped appearance) were entertaining but ultimately served as examples of what I wanted more of all throughout the film: stuff actually happening. Sadly, when it finally sort of does, it’s too ludicrous, too late.
Final Grade: C-