The American is aptly titled. The titular George Clooney is the sole domestic offering in this art-house flick. More suited for a European audience, I believe this film will disappoint the average moviegoer.
The movie begins with an assassin named Jack (Clooney) inSweden. He has just finished making love to a pretty young woman when they venture out for a walk across the snowy landscape. Suddenly he comes under fire from an unseen sniper. Jack shoots back, killing his attacker and another would-be assassin. Leaving no witnesses, he also kills his lover as collateral damage. This opening scene may lead you to believe that the movie was exciting and filled with action. Instead, the next hour and change was a methodical, subdued look into the solitary existence of an assassin.
Under strict orders from his boss, Jack heads to a tiny Italian town to hide out and wait for instructions about the next job. When he finally hears from The Boss, he’s told that he won’t even have to pull the trigger. All he has to do is make the tool. He meets with the client for whom he is making the tool, a female assassin with strict instructions. While working on the weapon he befriends a local priest named Father Benedetto and falls in love with a beautiful prostitute he meets at a brothel. Her name is Clara, and she shares the most intimate contact with Jack, who remains stoic with everyone else he encounters. Jack’s days are spent ritually exercising, and occasionally venturing out into the town. There was very little dialogue for an extended period of time in the movie. For example, we spent several minutes watching Jack make the weapon. I didn’t mind, but I could definitely see how some would find this boring.
I really shouldn’t recount any more of the plot, because it was secondary to the character. The American was a character study of a lonely man in a reviled line of work, and the reticent but assured steps he takes towards withdrawing from the life he’s always known and opening himself to real love and a meaningful human connection. It was a very slowly-paced film and not exciting by any stretch of the imagination. There were some tense scenes, especially when another Swedish hitman finds Jack inItaly. But the action was more understated, if that makes any sense. The entire movie had a classy, subdued and very European feel. We Americans tend to blow stuff up to get our point across. The attention span is short. For those reasons, I don’t think most people will appreciate the pacing or character development. There were some suspenseful moments, as Jack tries to extricate himself from his employer while finishing this last job. Although his final assignment seems to be a simple one, there is something amiss with his femme fatale client. The movie kept me guessing as I watched the world from Jack’s perspective. Always suspicious of what is lurking around the corner, startled by sudden noises and ready to react in an instant. It is a deeply personal conversation with Father Benedetto that encourages Jack to close the door on his murderous past and begin anew with Clara, who also yearns for a life with meaning.
Upon further consideration, I really enjoyed The American. Initially I was put off by its ending, after having sat through such prolonged periods of inactivity. It was such a quiet movie, but I think its strength lies in its silence, as it magnified Jack’s solitude and lonely existence. I applaud George Clooney for taking a risk. He had to know that a movie like this wouldn’t be popular with American audiences (I know it is currently number 1, with a paltry 16 million – but that won’t last). Maybe that’s why the studio did the old bait and switch with its advertising. If you look at the movie poster for The American, you’d think Clooney was a 007 wannabe. I’m sure many viewers expected a lot of action with him as a slick superspy. These people will be disappointed. But if you don’t have ADD, it’s worth checking out. I enjoyed the understated quality of the movie, as well as Clooney’s nuanced performance. It won’t please everyone, but The American was a very good film.