When I go to the movies, whether it’s to a silly romantic comedy or to a serious drama or to an art film, and so on, I hope that the experience will at least partially allow me to get away from every day life for an hour or two. I don’t think this is an uncommon or unreasonable expectation. When I went to see The American on a Monday afternoon, however I found myself running over my grocery and to-do lists.
The American features George Clooney as Jack (aka Edward), a master rifle-maker providing arms to assassins (what else he may be employed for is never certainly revealed). After a close-call with some Swedish gunmen, he is ready to get out of the business. Taking just one more job, he relocates to a tiny town in Italy, where he lays low, waiting for contact from his boss. He is assigned to create a compact, quiet, high-power rifle for a Belgian assassin, Mathilde. While he builds the gun and watches his back, Jack reluctantly starts a friendship with local priest, Fr. Benedetto, and a relationship with a local prostitute, Clara. Just when Jack starts to think he could really get out of this line of work, however, the situation takes a turn for the worse.
I don’t think I’ve ever said this before, and I hope I never will again, but George Clooney failed to impress me in this role. His character is complicated, lonely, angry, and has very little backstory given in the movie, but Clooney appears to just be going through the motions. In a couple of scenes he delivers a fantastic performance, but generally he was just boring to watch. He’s done far better work. In comparison, the supporting cast shines. Thekla Reuten as Mathilde consistently plays her character in such a way that I didn’t quite know how to read her, which worked perfectly for the story. Similarly, Violante Placido as Clara plays both sweet and irritating very well. As Father Benedetto, Paolo Bonacelli offers a warm and engaging depiction of a character who provides steadiness to an otherwise uncertain web of characters.
This movie looks like an action film but has the pacing of an indie drama (in other words, crawling). The result is that I was on edge the whole time waiting for something to happen. The combination just didn’t work for me. When the conclusion finally rolled around, it was everything that I expected and then totally different. That was pretty cool, but the last-minute twist, for me, isn’t worth the hour and a half of tension that preceded it.
The cinematography is beautiful. As the movie is set in the mountains of Italy, there’s a lot of natural beauty to work with, but the imagery of the film feels really stark most of the time in a way that works to enhance the emotions of the story. The use of butterflies as a motif throughout is also well done—prominent enough to be picked up on, but not so obvious that it’s heavy-handed (as in 2009’s Bright Star).
So, was The American beautifully made? Yes, absolutely. Did I enjoy it? No, not at all.
The American was written by Rowan Joffee, based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth, and directed by Anton Corbijn. It runs 105 minutes and is rated R for violence, sexual content and nudity.
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