Cast: Jack/Edward (George Clooney), Clara (Violante Placido), Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), Pavel (Johan Leysen)
Director: Anton Corbijn
Theatrical release: 09/01/2010
DVD Date: 12/28/2010
Running Time: 105 minutes
Note(s): Screenplay adapted from the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth.
— ♦ —
Review: The American is a quiet film; there is little action, minimal dialog, and a subdued soundtrack. It is most certainly a great film to look at -- the Italian village setting both quaint and mysterious -- but I'm not at all certain it's a great film to watch.
Clooney plays a hit man, but his real talent lies in constructing custom weaponry. The film opens in Sweden, where he's enjoying some time with a lovely lady. They're interrupted by a man who takes a shot at them. He kills the man, then promptly kills the lady, apparently unsure as to whether she gave him up or is merely a witness to be eliminated. He escapes to Italy, where he's given an assignment to deliver a high-powered rifle with a noise suppressor. While there, he meets another lovely lady and decides that once his delivery is complete, he's out of the business.
From a plot perspective, you know almost from the beginning exactly where this film is heading and how it is going to play out. There is no mystery or suspense in this regard. This is also not an action film; the pacing is glacial, which actually sort of, paradoxically, works in its favor. (There are a handful of action scenes, but they last only a minute or two, at most.) But despite knowing how the film is going to end, and the long, slow route it takes to get there, I'm not sure I fully understand the final scenes. I watched them twice, just to be sure I didn't miss something, but no, they still don't make a whole lot of sense to me. Having not read the book, I don't know if this sequence of events is taken from the novel or is original to the screenplay.
I also didn't quite buy Clooney's overall portrayal here. The character is alternately confident and paranoid while alone, yet in the presence of anyone else -- notably his handler, his customer, his lover, and the priest -- he becomes meek and rather withdrawn, subservient even. He feels most comfortable simply communing with nature, and even assumes the guise of an American photographer specializing in butterflies, studying in Italy. The locals call him Mr. Farfalle ... Mr. Butterfly. I actually like this complexity in the character, but Clooney doesn't give any dimension to his performance; he often looks like a befuddled actor who doesn't fully appreciate the role is playing.
Finally, there are all sorts of continuity issues that introduce questions to which there are no answers. Consider, for example, the newspaper headlines. (We see Clooney frequently reading a newspaper, the headlines conveniently subtitled in English.) Are they related to the story? Do they have a hidden meaning? Are we supposed to know what it is? I suspect this is more of an editing problem than a plot problem, yet this is but one example of many that will have viewers wondering if they missed something along the way. (Kind of along the lines I mention above about how the film ends.)
My recommendation is to give this film a pass. It is for ardent -- and forgiving -- George Clooney fans only.
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