CAPSULE: This film is neither a thriller nor a character study, though it has been described as each. George Clooney, the one familiar actor in the film, plays a dangerous man laying low in a hilly village in Italy. He appears to be perhaps an assassin himself or a gunsmith. We spend an entire film never finding out who he really is or why people are trying to kill him, but it is frequently pleasant just to enjoy the Italian scenery. In the end we have seen something happen, but we are not sure exactly what. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
A comment following the main review is a minor spoiler.
THE AMERICAN is a crime film that is only occasionally the action thriller it is promoted as. So it is hard to pigeonhole this film as an action film. Perhaps it is more a study of a character. But that is really not true either. The viewer has the feeling that if we are going to spend so much time with this Jack--if that is really his name--we should get to know him. However, we are blocked at every turn. Everything we ever learn about who Jack is is superficial. We don't even know what he does for a living. Is he a hired killer? We know he can make guns and is good at using them, but is that what he does? If so, why are people trying to kill him? Perhaps part of the point of the film is we are never going to know Jack. He will remain a cipher. The most substantial information we learn is that he is he is smart, he is a very private person, and he can be coldblooded when the occasion arises.
As the film opens Jack is apparently in the snowy fields of Sweden when two or three men try to kill him. We are shocked by Jack's ruthlessness and are not sure just why he does what he does, but the point is made he will do what he has to do to survive. To escape the police he flees to Rome, where a man--apparently his handler--wants him to hide out in Castelvecchio. Jack does not like the looks of Castelvecchio and goes to another village, Castel del Monte. At this point we find out this is not really an action thriller. Jack enjoys the beautiful surroundings and takes a job to engineer a personalized gun specialized for one particular killing. Perhaps the most interesting parts of the film are the wordless sequences as Jack expertly builds the gun from parts. The plot progresses a bit, but for the first hour nothing is really resolved. Jack is befriended by a local priest who tries to help Jack, but again is stopped at every turn by Jack's insistence on privacy. The priest lives up to the dramatic stereotype of priests, wise and perceptive. He knows that Jack is not what he claims to be. Jack says that he is poor with machines and the priest can tell from observation that Jack is lying. But even this cleric can find out nothing of interest about Jack.
Like Clooney's character in UP IN THE AIR, Jack has spent his life never making emotional connections to people and now is paying the price in solitude. Jack does seem to have the beginnings of a relationship with a local prostitute. We see a lot of her as well as seeing her a lot. The pacing is supposed to be suggestive of European directorial styles. Dutch director Anton Corbijn was previously known for music videos and rock documentaries. Here his work is controlled and even slow, though never tiresome. Most of the film is not action scenes, and much more is a textured view of setting. The film has not been cast with familiar faces, though both the prostitute and the assassin are played by unusually attractive women.
This film is probably not going to find a big audience after the first week for the simple reason that it does not satisfy most of the audience's expectations. In the European style the emphasis is not on plot but in conveying atmosphere. In the end we do not know who any of these people are or why what we are seeing is happening, and the setting is the film's greatest asset. I would rate THE AMERICAN a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
The plot of THE AMERICAN film runs strangely parallel to that of the much better film IN BRUGES.
Film Credits: http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt1440728/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/American
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper