“The American” is not a summer movie. It’s a leisurely-paced somewhat interesting film. It is not terribly concerned with the story being told – it’s not a new story -- but rather with the art form of the film telling it. “The American” is visually arresting, from snow-covered fields to medieval towns clinging to Italian mountainsides, to long quiet shots of unrecognizable cars driving along the winding roads of Abruzzo. Anton Corbijn has made as beautiful a film as a photographer would wish to make. But he was the director.
“The American,” in a pitch perfect performance by George Clooney, uses various names depending upon who he’s talking to. Let’s call him “Jack,” the name he uses when speaking to the European fellow with the long lined face who gives him assignments, a hard time, and orders. This is Pavel, a brusque man played by Johan Leysen. Jack is at a crisis point in his career as an assassin – they are all out to get him.
In Castel del Monte, Jack is a ghost wandering beautiful streets alone. He somehow makes a friend of the local priest (simply played by Paolo Bonacelli), and he has his occasional phone calls to Pavel. Clooney’s is the only familiar face in this film, so absolutely everyone is under suspicion.
Jack clearly needs human contact -- he starts the film with a woman (Irina Björklund) in a romantic interlude in Sweden. Things go wrong. Hiding out in Abruzzo, trying to obey Pavel's orders to not make friends, he finds a lovely prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido). Of course there’s more between them than just sex. We meet a third woman in the film, who identifies herself as Mathilde (Thekla Reuten); she is the client sent on by Pavel, looking for a quiet and compact sniper weapon. For most of the movie we watch Jack making this weapon. His concentration is intense, his expertise clear, his awareness of his surroundings acute. When not working he walks, he gazes, he visits the beautiful Clara. Guns, shadows, winding alleys and stairways, and a river running through the countryside are lovingly photographed, with Mr. Clooney drawing us along with him.
Visually stunning, perfectly acted, well scored, all the elements of this film are excellently executed. But something was lacking. Rowan Joffe’s script is terse, but rather obvious. How many times must Clooney be identified as American? "The American" feels like a leisurely short story put up on the screen, but one of those stories in which, while the language is beautiful, the story is less than satisfying. The tension does build, but not the suspense. Precisely how this will end is perfectly clear from the first five minutes of film. Perhaps a release in autumn or winter would have been more appropriate. “The American” is not the thriller advertised, it’s a character study.
~Molly Matera, signing off. Time to dream of Abruzzo and Clooney without guns.