Review: The American (2010)

The American


Anton Corbijn
Rowan Joffe (Novel: Martin Booth)
105 min.
George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Johan Leysen, Irina Björklund, Filippo Timi
MPAA Rating
R for violence, sexual content and nudity

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George Clooney expands his impressive array of features with this dark film about an accomplished American assassin attempting to retire, but agreeing to perform one last job before fading into the background.

The film opens with a snowy shootout between two hired guns trying to take Clooney’s Jack out, but end up dead in the process. The problem is that love of his life was walking in the snow with him. And his code requires that any who witness him in action be disposed of. So, afterwards, he contacts his “dispatcher” who provides a place for him to lay low in Italy while he arranges a final assignment: fulfilling a request for a made-to-order sniper rifle with silencer.

Stuck in this quiet Italian village, Jack does what he has always been trained not to do: make friends. The first is a considerate Catholic priest who takes Jack under his wing and attempts to help absolve and cleanse Jack’s soul. Jack pretends not to believe or care, but when the two have conversation, a subtle plaintive quality appears and the observant will understand that he has to seek forgiveness for himself without revealing anything about his life and career. His second acquaintance is that of a local whore with big ambitions and plans who works as a prostitute in order to save up enough money to break away from it all and go to college. Despite being one of her clients, he develops strong feelings for her, transferring the love he had for his last paramour to this new vessel. Yet, he remains conflicted on whether to attempt to push for some measure of happiness once he’s finished with his final assignment or abandon her so that she may live in case something should ever happen like before.

The film itself labors across its two-hour length, though it’s not without necessity. Films that explore complex emotional and psychological questions shouldn’t be rushed too much. And when you have action sequences built in, it’s nice to see how they are handled without all the quick edits, shaky cameras and excessiveness. Director Anton Corbijn realizes the gravity of his subject matter and permits the audience to take in every detail and explore the theme without the interference of unnecessary action film tropes.

And while a performance like the one delivered by Clooney can be obtained from an under-written film, this one seems to give the audience just enough information to process the events while allowing them to get drawn into Jack’s life, understand who Jack is and who he has been without undue outside influence. The audience isn’t force-fed information, which allows an actor like Clooney to charm the viewer and create the character with glances, tics and long silences. Clooney brings you into Jack’s complex psyche and his tortured convictions trying to separate his two lives without causing either irreparable harm.

The American is not a grand James Bond-style spy adventure. It’s not a convoluted, self-involved thriller. It’s a simple, understated character drama featuring a great actor at work doing what he does best.
Review Written
December 13, 2010

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