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The American

Dir: Anton Corbijn

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Focus Features

105 Minutes

Is it me or does it seem like George Clooney has been in a lot of movies lately? Including his latest feature, Anton Corbijn’s The American, Clooney has appeared in eight movies since 2007, playing quirky but mostly likable crooks, psychics and leatherheads. While his character in The American, an assassin hiding in Sweden who shoots his lover in the back of the head rather than blow his cover in the film’s opening minutes, is darker than anyone he has portrayed recently, neither the actor nor the director, best known for his music video work and the Ian Curtis biopic Control, have the guts to follow through with the sinister promise made in the beginning.

Filled with dread and paranoia, the first hour of The American as Clooney’s “Jack” hides out in an Abruzzo town and awaits orders from his employers, is tense and suspenseful. For some reason, “the Swedes” want to kill him, but we are given no clues to his past or why someone wants to take him out. In meticulous detail, Corbijn quietly details Jack’s life in the Italian mountain town, skulking along cobblestone streets, eating with the local priest, doing push-ups and blowing off steam with a local prostitute. At some point, he is contracted to build a weapon that will be used in an upcoming assassination. I wonder who the target will be? But first we must watch, with painstaking, silent detail as Jack puts together the perfect sniper rifle.

The American runs aground with two similar tropes that constantly dog recent cinema: the anti-hero who redeems himself and the hooker who is actually a nice girl wanting to go straight. Rather than continue the dark path established in the film’s prologue, we instead see Jack fall for the hooker (Violante Placido, who is naked in most of her scenes) and lose his killer instinct.

If there is one fatal flaw in the film, it’s that we’re given no reason to care about Jack. While someone could put a bullet in his head at any time, there is really nothing at stake here. It’s as if Corbijn wants us to care about George Clooney because he’s George Clooney. By the time the film rolls to its contrived ending, “the power of love” isn’t enough to bring it all home. Sorry, Jack.

On the other hand, Corbijn knows how to film a scene and the Italian countryside becomes a character unto itself with rolling clouds and medieval structures. Unfortunately, The American is not meant to be a show for the Travel Channel, but a gritty suspense film, as evidenced by a heavy-handed clip of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West at one point. However, while all-American good boy Henry Fonda remained a badass bastard until that film’s end, Clooney’s Jack’s resolve softens and flitters away like an endangered butterfly. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know what I’m referencing and realize just how out of place and undercooked that metaphor seems both in my review and there on the screen.

by David Harris

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