Review: ‘The American’

Review: ‘The American’

Hit men and assassins are a dime a dozen in Hollywood.  They are primarily used as an incidental plot device.

The assassin’s lifestyle is typically portrayed as being glamorous. There are no shortage of women to choose from, and traversing the globe to all sorts of exotic locales is a job requirement.  If you’ve got nerves of steel and a steady hand, you’ll be rolling in money in no time.

In The American, this conventional portrayal is turned on its ear. The American is a pensive, stark film that peels back the facade and exposes the realities of such a life. There’s no glamor, no partying, and no peace, ever. It’s a somber, isolated, lonely existence.

George Clooney plays Jack, the tortured man who has chosen this lifestyle. He spends most of his time out of the public eye in hotels, cabins or other temporary domiciles. He’s in a perpetual state of paranoia, because anyone he meets could be the person who has been sent to kill him.  Therefore, he spends most of his life obsessively scanning his surroundings and sleeping with one eye open.

After a close brush with death in Sweden, his latest assignment sounds like an easy gig.  He’ll be deployed to a small town in Italy, and he won’t have to kill anyone. He just has to fabricate a custom-made weapon for a client.

Jack meets with a beautiful, mysterious contact who gives him all of the specs for the weapon.  It will be a challenge, but Jack doesn’t seem discouraged.  He spends his days gathering materials and crafting the weapon, and his nights at a local brothel.

He finds himself drawn to one prostitute in particular, despite his better instincts.   Clara (played by Italian actress Violante Placido) is youthful, nubile, and naive.  Jack finds her a refreshing contrast to his world-weary self, and he begins to fall in love with her.

This prompts Jack to decide that this will be his last job, then he is leaving the business for good. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

He also develops a friendship of sorts with a local priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli),  who suspects that Jack has a troubled  past.

This is a gorgeous film.  The seaside town in Italy is a stunning backdrop for the minimalist story.  Director Anton Corbijn certainly has an eye for detail, and since their is very little actual dialogue in the film, he uses the scenery and colors to set the mood.

The opening sequence set in Sweden is an ocean of white snow, the brothel bedrooms are drenched in sumptuous red tones, and a simple white butterfly represents rebirth and hope.  Credit cinematographer Martin Ruhe for flawlessly capturing the director’s vision.

Clooney gives a brilliant, subtle performance.  He conveys Jack’s emotions through nuanced facial expressions.  I found it utterly fascinating how he conveyed grief, pain,  and fear.  Jack is supposed to be stoic; no emotions and no remorse, but his eyes always give his true feelings.

Violante Placido is enchanting and provocative as Jack’s love interest.

Don’t go to this movie expecting a jam-packed action movie.  You’ll be sorely disappointed. The movie is a slow-burn, and is deliberately paced, but by the end Corbijn ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels.  A jolting piano score by Herbert Grönemeyer heightens the suspense.

The American is smart, sexy and powerful.  It’s a wonderful character study about a deeply troubled man who can’t escape his past, and it is not easily forgotten.