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Overall Rating

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Average: 38.24%
Pretty Bad: 2.94%
Total Crap: 8.82%

4 reviews, 10 user ratings

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American, The
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by Erik Childress

"I Present To You Our Ambassador, Mr. Clooney."
4 stars

You will often hear of films of the thriller variety referred to having a ‘70s sensibility. Many of the thrillers of that era were often influenced in the events surrounding Watergate and the sins inherit in Vietnam; many of which resulted in the aftermath of the JFK assassination. Jim Garrison was helping fuel the national paranoia over a shady element in our government and it resulted in favorites of the time like Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View and, of course, All the President’s Men. Paranoia being the key word in everything above; the fear of the threat more than the direct involvement in shootouts and chases. Anton Corbjn’s ultra-spare thriller, The American, shares a direct link with that time even though it is set, as far as we can tell, today. Without making any sudden movements to call attention to its own intentions, the film becomes an interesting statement about our more recent government’s involvement in global affairs and an intimately tense tale of a man capable of more than just the violence he causes.

George Clooney stars as Jack, a man who has his cover blown in the opening scene. For what or by whom we are not told. Just that they have tracked him down and discovered that he’s not that easy to kill, even if the woman with him is. Off to Rome he goes to meet with Pavel (Johan Leysen), a man who now has reasonable cause to believe that one of his top guys has lost his edge. Jack used to know the value in keeping “friends.” While he’s in town though, he may as well have a job to do. “You don’t even have to pull the trigger,” he is told. That task is left to Mathilde (Thekla Reuten) who requests a very specific weapon; something Jack is left to design for the purposes of hitting a target and misdirecting any clues to the shooter’s whereabouts. He has a month to deliver.

Certainly ready to keep to himself in the villa where he holds up, Jack’s loner sensibilities attracts the notice of a local priest (Paolo Bonacelli), whom he identifies himself as a photographer. He also visits a brothel where he meets the beautiful Clara (Violante Placido). One visit becomes two and though he won’t allow himself to admit it, he enjoys her company and soon discovers she does too. Jack is weary though about his own safety. With the unnamed Swedish assassins on his trail, the growing discomfort in Pavel’s voice and the potential that anyone staring too long could be out to get him, Jack may have finally discovered that living this life is not living at all.

Without misadvertising, Clooney’s Jack is indeed THE American in this film, representing our country as the silent killer that gets in and then gets out even quicker, leaving with money in hand and a mess behind. Jack is not motivated by politics though and neither is this film which is only represented partially by its titular implications. It is equal parts thriller, morality tale, character study and tutorial. If not a step-by-step manual, The American certainly is aware of an audience's fascination with a craftsman's work. The film is practically in love with the creation of weaponry and the sounds of metal they create even when not being fired, playing into a nation's fascination with the power we can wield at any time.

Guns play second fiddle to Jack himself, played masterfully by Clooney. We are a long way from the smirks and head bobs that simplified his early roles and the days when he struggled with remembering lines (reportedly on ER and seen first-hand in behind-the-scenes footage of From Dusk Till Dawn.) Clooney is in control of everything as he has been for years showing he can play charming (Up in the Air), goofy (The Men Who Stare At Goats and his Coen Bros. trilogy) and men at the end of their ropes (Michael Clayton, Syriana). Jack is certainly more of the latter, but because of the certainty in his abilities it makes his paranoia all the more troubling. Without saying anything we watch as he eyeballs exit strategies, clocking everyone around him and knows just how to get the drop on his would-be attackers. The screws are put so tight at one point that this may be the first film in history to get a jump out of a guess-who-peek-a-boo.

Director Anton Corbijn makes sure we are paying attention as well and in a few scenes maybe unnecessarily confuses viewers with the juxtaposition of scenes between the film's two women. Concerns over one leads to intimacy with another, each making note of Jack's association with butterfiles. Cinematographer Martin Ruhe frames his actors beautifully though, knowing just when to intimately profile them and when to let others passion or fears dominate the frame. There's a great shot of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West playing in a cafe, right during the "now that you said my name" scene where Henry Fonda's cold killer fills the television and provides the perfect bridge for Jack's actions during the opening scene.

Rowan Joffe's adaptation of Martin Booth's novel, A Very Private Gentleman, allows the audience to draw their own conclusions throughout the film from the meaning behind the shift in lovemaking techniques to Jack's own shifting trust issues. Elements of religious guilt accompany the anti-"American" sentiment, but is never pushed into obvious areas of pretentious redemption and spirituality. Instead, Jack's talks with the priest accentuate the themes of man's flaws being self-evident and that love trumps judgement every time. Jack is a lonely man, alone in a world that he has chosen, by profession, to abandon. The proverbial caterpillar (stressed a bit too much in its butterfly metaphors) moves slowly towards his own cocoon in the hope that tomorrow will begin again. Watching Jack desperately search to see if his feelings are reciprocated or if his generosity is just being taken advantage of is an interesting final exhale after the unhurried, but palpable, tension leading the whole way through The American.

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originally posted: 09/01/10 14:00:00
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User Comments

12/29/17 morris campbell boring imho 1 stars
8/14/11 Joe smaltz Lots of eye candy, female and Italy. 4 stars
2/28/11 Sabaka Doesn't work for me. 1 stars
1/14/11 millersxing a potent potboiler, if a bit predictable 4 stars
1/10/11 mr.mike Dull yet watchable, well played by Clooney , ending is so-so. 4 stars
1/04/11 David Young Clooney personally owews me 22 buck for that trash. 1 stars
1/02/11 Monday Morning Completely, deadly slow and boring. 2 stars
9/04/10 Joe Excellent movie. Not too much useless dialogue. One of my favorite movies. 4 stars
9/03/10 Anders G A film that satisfies in how much it does NOT tell us and succeeds as a quality film 4 stars
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  01-Sep-2010 (R)
  DVD: 28-Dec-2010

  26-Nov-2010 (15)

  11-Nov-2010 (MA)
  DVD: 28-Dec-2010

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Anton Corbijn

Written by
  Rowan Joffe

  George Clooney
  Thekla Reuten
  Paolo Bonacelli
  Violante Placido
  Bruce Altman

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