The American *** ½
Directed by: Anton Corbijn.
Written By: Rowan Joffe based on the novel by Martin Booth.
Starring: George Clooney (Jack / Edward), Irina Björklund (Ingrid), Paolo Bonacelli (Father Benedetto), Thekla Reuten (Mathilde), Violante Placido (Clara), Filippo Timi (Fabio), Anna Foglietta (Anna).
The American is a movie about a hit man, but it is different than most of the movies in the genre. It isn’t all about action, but rather about a man who has spent his entire life pushing people away and now wants to change that. But he can’t. The people who employ him, not to mention people angry at him for doing his job, don’t want to leave him alone. If you get close to him, you’re probably going to wind up dead. When the action scenes do come - and they do - they are over rather quickly. The people shooting at each other know what they’re doing, so the shootouts don’t last that long.
Like a Hitchcock film, The American doesn’t waste time with back story, but dives right into the action. We first see George Clooney, who plays Jack or Edward or whatever he is calling himself, when he’s in Sweden with his new girlfriend. They are walking through the snow, when Clooney hears something behind him. It isn’t long before the guys after Clooney are dead, and so is his girlfriend. But it isn’t the bad guys who put a bullet in the girl’s head - it is Clooney himself. The girl is a witness, has seen who he really is, and he cannot take the chance that she’ll tell someone.
Clooney goes to hide out in Italy and contacts his old boss. He tells him wear to hide and even sets him with a new job. All Clooney has to do is build a gun for someone - he doesn’t even have to pull the trigger. Clooney makes the man into a consummate professional - yet one who is tired of being alone. He goes to a prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido), but soon they are more than that. They are seeing each other outside of their normal routine, and money isn’t changing hands anymore. But just like Michael Corleone, just when Clooney thinks he is out, they pull him back in.
The American will probably disappoint people who are looking for something more action packed or something a little more in the thriller genre. The film is much more slowly paced and cerebral than most movies with a similar plotline. It is much more about mood and tone than about action. Clooney doesn’t say much in the movie, which would seem to work against the movie because Clooney delivers snappy, clever dialogue with the best of them. But the lack of dialogue actually works quite well for Clooney. It forces him to act much more with his body language - which is slow and sullen - and his face, which expresses much more than dialogue could. It is a brave move on Clooney’s part, and it is one that pays off.
The film was directed by Anton Corbijn, who previous film was the Joy Division biopic Control. On the surface two movies couldn’t be two different. One after all is a biopic about a self destructive singer who killed himself right before his band was about to become major stars, and the other is a thriller about a hit man. But what both movies share is an acute observation of its characters, and a storytelling technique that doesn’t sensationalize the aspects. While both movies fall into well worn genres, they seem fresh and new. The American is a movie that forces you to observe its main character in a way movies like this very often. Clooney plays a real person here, who tries unsuccessfully right up until the credits roll to change who he is. It’s a fruitless effort, but he doesn’t stop trying. By the end, you even feel sorry for the poor bastard.