Now would be the time for you to throw all preconceived notions that “The American” is a full-out action movie out the window, because it is far from that. This film is what I like to call a “chiller,” or a chill thriller. Rather than using all its ammunition like a trigger-happy cynic, the film is very conservative with its thrills. The scenes build tension in a gradual method, and I think I might actually prefer it that way.
The film’s protagonist Jack (George Clooney) is a hired American assassin, and a highly skilled one at that. He specializes in fashioning unique weapons for special missions. In fact, one of the running storylines involves his construction of a rifle out of a microphone stand and a few spare auto parts. These sequences are fascinating to watch in their own right and they give you an idea of Jack’s intellect in regards to his profession. While on a sojourn in Abruzzo, Italy, he is assigned to meet up with another assassin (Thekla Reuten) to secretly discuss her weapon requirements.
One of Jack’s few mental problems (probably the ONLY one) that interfere with his missions is his ability to make “friends” along the way. Despite specific instructions from one of his associates Pavel (Johan Leysen), he cannot help but get himself attached to certain local people. This flaw can be fatal in certain cases, as in the opening scene (set in Östersund, Sweden) in which he has to shoot both his lover and an assassin that was hunting him down. In his business, it is not a wise choice to get involved with too many people because it runs the risk of putting their lives in danger.
In this case, he falls for a prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido). While it originally starts as just an encounter in a nearby brothel, Jack finds himself returning to the same place and asking for Clara by name. The two become closer throughout his stay in Italy. Close enough to the point where they start to meet up at places other than “their normal spot.” Knowing the fate of his previous love, it is difficult to know if and when a threat rears its ugly head.
This film is an adaptation from a 1990 novel titled “A Very Private Gentlemen” by Martin Booth. That title represents exactly the type of vibe the film sets off. There is an everlasting sense of mystery around every corner that kept me intrigued all the way until the credits started rolling. Sure, the pacing will be considered by some to be ‘boring’ or ‘too slow.’ In my defense, I’ll say that there is a considerable discrepancy between being slow and taking a deliberate, thought-provoking approach to a commonly mindless genre.
This is not your typical spy movie. Jack ain’t the next James Bond. He ain’t the next Jason Bourne. The feel that director Anton Corbijn is going for is that of a real-life spy. The budget spent on this movie is probably only a fraction of the money wasted in financing and green-lighting the latest Michael Bay dreck. And you know what? Even without a kajillion explosions and endless rounds of bullets flying all over the place, I found this easily more entertaining than most every movie released this year.
This may be thanks in part to the convincing performances given by both Clooney and Placido. Their acting appears externally to be subdued or restrained during most of the picture, but when certain emotions are called for, even if it is just a minute facial change, both of these actors make it seem authentic and one-hundred percent real. This tactic is all a part of the “creating a vibe” thing I mentioned before.
The written dialogue sequences are so bare-bone simplistic and direct that you would think that this is an adapted screenplay from a Cormac McCarthy book. Elaborate sentence structure is sparse (almost nonexistent), but what actually IS spoken means everything to the development of these characters. It helps in understanding moods, even if those moods are not clear upon first glance.
Shot on location in Italy (at gorgeous locations, by the way), “The American” will likely appeal to a larger foreign audience than here in America (how ironic). I cannot see most of the American movie-going public appreciating the film for what it is, which is a thoughtful character study wrapping itself in the flag of a summer blockbuster. I surely hope I am wrong in my assumptions, because this truly is an expertly crafted and smart film that I myself thoroughly enjoyed.