Director: Anton Corbijn
Writer: Rowan Joffé
Starring: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Irina Björklund
Studio: Focus Features
Release Date: September 1, 2010
The American is a taut thriller. Every actor delivers an authentic performance that makes their character feel real. Every shot in the film is gorgeous and feels like each frame could be a postcard. The American may just be the best film I cannot possibly recommend.
Clooney plays Jack, a gunsmith and hit man on the run from relentless Swede assassins. In most movies with this type of set-up we would see Jack investigate his attackers, eventually uncovering their boss in an action-filled climax, but The American provides a refreshing, seemingly more realistic take. Instead of going on the offensive, Jack goes into hiding in the Rome countryside, counting on his employer Pavel to keep him safe. More, this attack has frightened Jack, making him want out of his lethal lifestyle.
It’s a very low-key, suspenseful take on a story about hit-men, and that is The American’s greatest strength. Even when Jack’s serenity is interrupted by a Swede attack, the action scenes are bloody and short, the exact opposite of the glossy, adrenaline-filled fights in action films like The Bourne Identity. The scenes are not here to thrill, but to remind Jack, and the audience, that death surrounds him and his quiet respite could come to a bloody end at any moment. This is driven home to great effect.
Indeed, The American treats the Swedes as a subplot, with the main focus being Jack’s relationship with local prostitute Clara. What starts as a purely professional relationship ends in a true romance as Jack connects with Clara, despite not ever truly trusting her intentions. Clara could be a plant, and we’ve already seen Jack kill one girlfriend. As such, Jack and Clara’s scenes together are always bittersweet as the audience knows at any moment one of these lovers could kill the other.
But despite all that is done right, The American fails in many respects. Jack is a laconic cipher We have endless scenes with him drinking coffee, or expertly machining a rifle, but Cloony’s performance always leaves us disconnected from the assassin. Jack’s lies are told so often and so easily that we never know what to believe. We don’t trust Jack and Jack trusts no one, leaving the viewer with no character with whom they can relate. Do we want this agent of death to find love and salvation, or do we want the Swedes to deliver swift justice?
The film’s final fall is in its finale. As we are kept emotionally distant from our main character, his fate becomes ultimately unimportant. The suspense of the eventual double-cross reaches its climax, but in an unfulfilling, perfunctory way.
The American is like one of Jack’s guns–lovingly crafted, expertly made, but ultimately cold and mechanical. Not recommend