Title: The American
Directed By: Anton Corbijn
Starring: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Johan Leysen
When someone sneezes during a movie and another theatergoer a few seats away actually says, “God bless you,” it’s never a good sign – for the movie. You know what else isn’t a good sign? The man scratching his head incessantly in front of me, the four people who walked out, the woman a few seats over constantly checking the time on her phone and the man next to me counting the remaining Twizzlers in the bag as though they’re the last pieces left on earth and he’s got to make them last, all of which were monumentally more exciting than The American.
George Clooney is Jack. Well, he’s Jack to some, but to others, he’s Edward. While in Sweden Jack gets too cozy with a woman and when his cover is blown, he has no choice but to flee. His boss Pavel (Johan Leysen) insists Jack lay low in a small mountain town. That’s where he adopts the name Edward to use amongst his new acquaintances, a priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), and a local prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido).
Soon after his arrival, Pavel contacts Jack about one last gig to keep him busy while he’s hiding out. He covertly meets with a woman who slips him the details of the gun she’s hiring him to construct. On top of completing the job, managing his budding relationship with Clara and having heart-to-hearts with Father Benedetto, Jack must elude a team of Swedish assassins aiming to take him out.
Sounds exciting right? Not exactly. The American is as a slow and deliberate as they come and even insultingly so. However, things actually start out decently. Jack goes on an icy hike with his lady, but winds up in a gun battle with those assassins. The moment is fairly tense and the results quite shocking, but from there all we get is lingering shot after lingering shot backed by a nearly non-existent score. When the pace has yet to pick back up after 30 minutes of the movie, it’s quite obvious that The American is quite the opposite of a thriller.
It’s easy to see what Anton Corbijn is trying to do; he wants to make a chic and subtle character study. There would be nothing wrong with his stylistic choices had he considered the film’s entertainment value as well. The American is such a bore, it’ll be nearly impossible for some to even give the story a chance. But even if you manage to emerge from the slew of silent gun-building sequences, coffee sipping and scenic shots without heavy eyelids, there’s still not much of a story to latch onto.
Until Jack is given his next assignment, the audience knows little about his character, but even after his occupation is revealed, he’s almost entirely one-dimensional. We know he’s a gun-building assassin and that’s just about it. There’s an attempt to reveal his softer side when his relationship with Clara goes from pure business to genuine emotion, but not nearly enough time is devoted to the transition, making their connection entirely ineffective. In fact, the same goes for just about every supporting character in the film. The priest achieves little in his quest to have Jack accept what he’s done and forgive himself, while a whole bit with a mechanic could have been removed entirely. Yes, Jack goes to the mechanic for gun parts, but it really could have been left at that; without spoiling the reveal, the mechanic’s second plot point is meaningless. As for Jack’s stealthy client, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), her character comes the closest to sparking some interest, but before she can pick up the pulse of the piece, she disappears and doesn’t return for another half hour. At that point, she’s back to square one.
Poor Martin Ruhe. If only Corbijn put a little pep into this film, perhaps it would have been possible to appreciate his cinematography. The guy clearly knows how to capture the best of the best in terms of the European landscapes and the minimalistic action, but The American is just so tedious, self-indulgent and flat out boring, his work practically goes unnoticed. Tarnishing Ruhe’s work further is jarring editing and the story’s disjointed nature. A number of angle changes are distractingly unusual and unnatural as is the way the story plays out. One minute Jack is in his room working on the gun, the next he’s in the midst of a sexual romp with Clara and then he’s looking over his shoulder at a possible Swedish assassin; nothing flows.
Corbijn opted to rely almost entirely on visuals and those visuals just aren’t powerful enough to spark interest or provide the film with any momentum. Clooney, Reuten and Placido are nice to look at as are the sprawling countryside views and even the beautiful custom-made rifle, but beyond that, The American has nothing; there’s no pace, minimal combat, no character development, barely any score and worst of all, nothing to care about. Corbijn and screenwriter Rowan Joffe try to get all artsy, slowly revealing story information as they go along, but so little is exposed at a time that when you finally reach the point at which everything starts to come together, you just don’t care anymore. Perhaps the story needed more room to breath and comes across better in Martin Booth’s book, A Very Private Gentleman.
By Perri Nemiroff