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‘The American’ Movie Review

George Clooney in ‘The American.’

© Focus Features
There are going to be two distinct and unbudgeable camps when it comes to The American. In one camp you’ll have the people who believe the thriller, with its minimal dialogue, limited character development, and too convenient plot, is bold and beautiful. In the other camp will be moviegoers like myself. We will see The American as a wasted opportunity, a flat, uninspired production that doesn’t go anywhere and doesn’t tell an engaging or even logical story. The American holds its audience at arm’s length, a thriller with no thrills and no emotional connection that wraps up far too neatly to justify its opening and middle acts.
A quiet, thoughtful thriller would indeed be a refreshing change of pace, but The American’s not the film we’ve been waiting for. George Clooney is terrific in every single frame, and the production design and cinematography are first-rate, but The American is a sterile, utterly forgettable film. In fact, it’s so forgettable I had to fight myself from drifting off and losing concentration while watching it.
The Story

Jack (Clooney) starts off in Sweden, apparently vacationing with a beautiful woman. They go outside for a walk in the snow and get shot at by a sniper. Jack kills the sniper, the sniper’s back-up, and then shoots the woman to make sure no one’s alive to identify him. So we immediately know the type of man Jack is and get the fact he’s not afraid to pull the trigger even when the target is a woman. He’s an assassin who can’t afford to be found by his enemies or the police.

Violante Placido and George Clooney in ‘The American.’

© Focus Features
Jack winds up in Rome on a pay phone to his employer demanding to know why the Swedes are after him. His boss urges him to go to the mountain town of Abruzzo, but that’s not to his liking so he heads off to another picturesque spot. Once there he meets a priest (Paolo Bonacelli) who quickly discerns Jack isn’t the professional photographer he’s claiming to be, and just as quickly reveals he mentors a young man who’s ostensibly a mechanic but who actually engages in illegal activities. Why does he say this? Because Jack’s going to need someone who owns specific items that will help him put together a high-powered, lightweight weapon for a client (Thekla Reuten). And here’s an ah-ha moment in the film: Jack’s not an assassin but the man you go to when you want to buy specially-built lethal weapons. Still, he took out the snipers without any problems so he must have, at one point in time, been the man who actually knocked off people for pay. But that’s purely an assumption on my part as The American reveals nothing about the backstories of any of the people on the screen.
While Jack’s busy putting together a gun, he finds time to visit a remote area and study butterflies and he finds the time to pay for and then become attached to a prostitute (Violante Placido). She’s gorgeous, speaks perfect English, and wants to date him outside of work. He doesn’t turn down her advances, which is terrific for the males in the audience since director Anton Corbijn likes to shoot Placido with her clothes off or nearly completely off.

Why the priest and the prostitute are so enamored with Jack is never evident onscreen because Jack doesn’t treat either of them as friends, and he doesn’t open himself up for any sort of deep relationship. Still, both characters find him appealing even without Jack giving them a reason to want to do anything more than deliver a nod of acknowledgment when passing on the street.
It’s Jack’s relationship with the prostitute that seems to confirm that his decision to do one final job and then leave the business is the right choice, but his boss wants him to finish up the gun he’s been commissioned to make before quitting the business. And of course you know where all this is leading, despite the fact you’re forced into taking major leaps of faith in order to get to the conclusion.

The Bottom Line

There’s very little to the plot of The American, which in and of itself isn’t a problem. Nor is the fact The American is a suspense thriller with only brief spurts of any action and absolutely no exploding cars, trains or airplanes, and no Parkouring from building to building. That’s all fine and dandy, and a welcome reprieve from thrillers where the stunt work is more important than the film’s characters. But The American doesn’t capitalize on its uniqueness, taking leaps in storytelling and using far too many coincidental events to move things forward. When you think of what Clooney as Jack has to go through to reach the film’s ending, you realize there’s no way The American adds up.

Thekla Reuten and George Clooney in ‘The American.’

© Focus Features
There’s not much talking and not much action, and ultimately not much at all to The American. Because the film opens with Clooney shooting an unarmed and innocent woman in the back, it’s impossible to develop any sympathy for the character as he tries to figure out who’s after him and get to them before they can make a move.
Even the charm and talent of Clooney can’t make Jack accessible to the audience as he’s trying to stay alive while falling for a beautiful Italian prostitute, not that accessibility was what director Corbijn was going for. With The American it’s difficult to tell what Corbijn had in mind and what exactly Clooney saw in the script that made him take on the project. There’s a whole lot of nothing going on, and not a lot of reasons to recommend spending any time with this American.


The American was directed by Anton Corbijn and is rated R for violence, sexual content and nudity.

Theatrical Release: September 1, 2010


September 8, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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