DVD The American

DVD The American
DVD The American
Run time: 105 min
Rating: 6.3
Genres: Crime | Drama | Thriller
Director: Anton Corbijn
Writers: Rowan Joffe, Martin Booth
Stars: George Clooney, Paolo Bonacelli, Violante Placido
Storyline
Alone among assassins, Jack is a master craftsman. When a job in Sweden ends more harshly than expected for this American abroad, he vows to his contact Pavel that his next assignment will be his last. Jack reports to the Italian countryside, where he holes up in a small town and relishes being away from death for a spell. The assignment, as specified by a Belgian woman, Mathilde, is in the offing as a weapon is constructed. Surprising himself, Jack seeks out the friendship of local priest Father Benedetto and pursues romance with local woman Clara. But by stepping out of the shadows, Jack may be tempting fate. Written by Anonymous
Plot Keywords: priest, assassin, ambush, sweden, prostitute
Details:
Country: USA, UK
Release Date: 26 November 2010 (UK)
Box Office
Budget: $20,000,000 (estimated)
Opening Weekend: £411,707 (UK) (26 November 2010)
Gross: £1,290,205 (UK) (17 December 2010)

4 Comments

  1. Before anybody reading this review goes to see "The American," let me give you some sincere advice. If you are expecting this to be another Jason Bourne or James Bond-style of movie with elaborate action sequences, tight pacing, and ear-throbbing music…you had better stay away, for you will be sorely disappointed. The advertising campaign and production photographs gives one the impression that George Clooney is taking on a role in a movie like Liam Neeson did in that marvelously powerful thriller "Taken" released in 2008. But that is not the case. "The American" is shot on a foreign location, features a lot of foreign dialect, and was made by a Dutch director with a mostly Italian cast. In other words, it's not really an American action production. It's an Italian melodrama and a really fascinating one at that.

    Lots of questions are raised and very few of them are given answers (detailed ones, at least) in this incredibly affecting thriller. We know and find out very little about our protagonist (George Clooney) who goes by two names: Jack and Edward. All we know is that he's a trained killer, somebody wants him to manufacture a special rifle for an assassination, and that's about it. We don't find out who exactly he works for, and we really don't need to. Clooney is an American sent into an Italian town for a last assignment. While he is waiting for the right time, Clooney tries to avoid being shot at by assassins, and begins a relationship with a prostitute (Violante Placido) which slowly transforms from lust to love.

    This is not really an action picture and to a certain extent, it's not even really a thriller. "The American" is a transfixing character study. We learn not about the George Clooney character's history, but his integrity as a human being, which it not very much. Director Anton Corbijn frequently has Clooney in a one-note personality and sets up his cameras at a combination of close-ups and medium shots that remain static as he performs rather mundane tasks as he waits for his assignment to come through. One would assume that this would produce tedium and boredom and for some people, it will be just that. But for me, and those who really get involved, this is rather fascinating and it doesn't drag on for very long at all.

    However, the best scenes in the movie revolve around the relationship between George Clooney and Violante Placido, who is effective and charismatic as the prostitute who falls in love with him. The director sets up earlier scenes of them having sex and then later changes the direction to show them not as a pair of sex-starved individuals looking for a way to kill a boring night, but as two human beings who care for each other. At first, I was questioning the point of the Placido character and I was griping, as I usually do, about the sex scenes and how they seem, as usual, to have no purpose. But now in hindsight, I commend the filmmakers for their choice. The sex scenes, for once, are appropriate because they show how the relationship between these two characters evolves from lecherousness to a pure and affectionate love.

    Director Anton Corbijn and cinematographer Martin Ruhe have done a superb job at crafting their nostalgia-stirring opus. The movie's misc en scene and lighting is absolutely wonderful. The film is great to look at as well as experience. There are some marvelous and more importantly, creative landscape and interior shots and it's almost a treat that the camera is frequently locked-down so we can admire these moments.

    In regards to the performances, they are solid. George Clooney proves his worth as an actor yet again with his portrayal of this tormented, cynical man of few words. Violante Placido is also very effective as the girl. Thekla Reuton is icy and more than scenic in her performance as the in-between person working with Clooney. Paolo Bonacelli is compelling as the priest whom Clooney befriends, and Johan Leysen is chilling in his moments as the mysterious individual who always answer his phone with a gruff "Yeah?" "The American" is one of the best movies of the year. However, I cannot guarantee that many people will agree with my statement. First of all, because a lot going in will be misled that this is a high-tensity action picture like "The Bourne Identity" and when they find out it's not, they will leave the theater feeling vastly empty. So that's why I am giving you warning. Don't go in with that attitude. Go in with expectations for a fascinating, nostalgia-stirring character study and be especially keen as you watch the relationship between Clooney and Placindo transform. And believe me: scenes that seem pointless at first will seem ideal when you look back on it in hindsight.

  2. As an action thriller, I'd give this film maybe a 2/10. But that is not what it was intended to be. The ads and marketing of the film falsely suggest this is an action film, and that is a great disservice both to the film and to the audience. I suspect that the film's rating would be higher had the marketing been honest. It is almost the opposite of action: it's a quiet, introspective film. I didn't expect a thriller and so I wasn't disappointed.

    As usual in this kind of film, there is not a lot of backstory. We never find out exactly where Jack came from, how he found his job, why he could take such a job, etc. But that's not really the point. We never really find out much about the back story on the other characters, either. I think we actually found out more about the priest.

    I enjoyed the film in about the same way I would enjoy a short story, which focuses on a few points rather than furnishing a history and full explanation.

  3. The cinematography is breath taking, but with top photographer Anton Corbijn at the helm, you wouldn't expect anything less. There's very little dialogue in this film, about 500 lines in total, which emphasizes the acting and the visual spectacle. Don't expect any CGI or amazing action scenes. It's just not that kind of film. It's a homage to C'era una volta il West by Sergio Leone, to The Day of the Jackal (the original!) by Fred Zinnemann and writer Frederick Forsyth, to Italy and in a way to Clooney. The deliberate slow pace will put a lot of people off. The movie is about professionalism, betrayal, loneliness, revenge and love. How good "bad" people can be. A wonderful film, that will not be valued by the average Hollywood loving movie goers, but a must see for people who love movies and for whom movie-making is an art.

  4. The first thing some people (though not all) coming out of The American may say is "It's… slow." They may be missing the idea behind the film. It's not about making an action-packed thriller (one critic putting the cheesy pun "Less Jason Bourne and more Jason Boring" is foolish to make that comparison), and if you need that this particular weekend of Labor Day then Robert Rodriguez's Machete should suffice with that. This is a film with a European sensibility- it even has the director Anton Corbijn from the Netherlands- and is more about the internal conflict and his mechanical, cold nature than anything to do with a straightforward plot. The American is never confusing, and only for those who are looking for something with a huge shot of adrenaline (which, to be fair, the trailer doesn't do a good job of setting up) will feel let down or bored. It's a work that asks to adjust your expectations for a dramatic thriller. To give a much more apt comparison, it's like Jean-Pierre Melville taking a crack at Jarmusch's the Limits of Control. Yeah, that's more like it.

    Another thing that makes Corbijn's work so appealing is his star, who is really George Clooney the "actor" this time. It's startling to consider, though sometimes easy to forget, how much range Clooney actually has. In some roles he does go by on his movie-star charm (Ocean's movies) or sometimes plays with that image (Up in the Air) or is just plain goofy (work with the Coen brothers). A performance like this is more in line with Michael Clayton, and it is one of his most memorable. He comes in doing a kind of Alain Delon impersonation (again, Melville comes to mind with his often leading figure), and his Jack character is a smooth operator, a killer who is only cold-blooded due to years of detachment and people around him that he becomes 'friends' with getting killed. The basic set-up is that he's in Italy lying low after a snafu in Sweden, and is given a job to put together a gun for an assassin. Along the way he meets a prostitute and the two become close. Maybe too close.

    There is predictability in the narrative, but that's not what Corbijn and Clooney are going for. Anyone can take the old 'one last job' or 'don't fall in love or get close' kind of thing. In fact just two years ago, on this precise weekend, one saw a lackluster action-packed equivalent, Bangkok Dangerous, come out with just a similar thing. Corbjin, taking from a screenplay based on the book by Martin Booth (formerly called A Very Private Gentleman aptly enough), makes this about a man who has had his life chipped away bit by bit from this line of work. He doesn't always kill, but he can, or he is professionally able to get other people to kill. One of the key things to look for is how Clooney acts, calmly and assuredly, and how simply Corbjin films him, as Jack puts together the gun and assembles the pieces. It's like a well-oiled, impersonal machine. The question becomes: how human can this man be, can he connect with someone else?

    These are questions that don't usually fly in Hollywood fare, certainly not even in other big Clooney-vehicle spectacles like the Oceans movies. The amount of restraint is remarkable, but how Corbjin keeps things eerily peaceful and leisurely paces is what's really incredible. Some have also compared it to 70's crime thrillers, and that's not unfounded. The action that does come out- and there are, to be fair, a few decent sequences of chasing, dodging and bullets flying without a change of film speed- comes out of the suspense, and the suspense comes out of paranoia. Clooney always has to look over his shoulder, and has to second guess everything he does. His conniving boss thinks that he's growing soft, but Jack knows better, or should. Even around his usually very naked and beautiful prostitute girlfriend, played by Violante Placido, he has to have a gun at the ready when he sees he has one. Can he trust her? Can we?

    Again, I have to stress how this is the George Clooney show along with the director's. If you find him to be an underrated actor, this is a feast of interesting, understated moments. Whether or not he's handsome or dreamy or whatever he is to women (and/or men) should be irrelevant to how he acts in the movie. But the movie star quality also carries over to a point. When he wants to be, Clooney can be so compelling with barely an eye moment, just a gesture, or a little inflection to his persona. You need a presence like him, among various character actors both pretty (i.e. Mathilde) and more sinister looking (Swedish villains) or more friendly but portly (the village priest), and he does. I would see the film again just for Clooney and how he drew me in with the believability of the resolve and sorrow in his character.

    Another hard sell this season – an art film in the guise of Hollywood Euro-thriller fare in strikingly gorgeous locales shot by that guy who did music videos for Depeche Mode – but it holds a lot of rewards for the patient and willing.

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